Long ago, in a land far away, some shepherds stood watch over their flocks by night. Others watched for a light in the distance. Some are watching still; for a saviour, an answer, a way out, a bit of truth at least. We all get comfort from a good story. We watch for ways that the story can help us in our fragile existence.
Many years ago I watched over my wife who was dying of cancer. I wasn’t the only one. Palliative care is a draining exercise. During the hours that I set off to work I had asked several friends to spend some time caring for my bride’s needs. One member of this collective took charge and organized a weekly calendar of visitations. I dubbed the 12 member group, ‘The Watchers’. A month after her death, we all gathered to reflect on our experience. We ate cake and posed for pictures. Many voiced that the job of being an active witness during a chapter of life was profoundly moving.
Yesterday I was standing outside a store waiting for it to open. Two others of my age were also watching to see if anyone was coming to open the door. I commented, “It must be close to ten.” “Sorry, I don’t have a watch,” came a synchronous, stereophonic reply. We three wise men chuckled. We collectively wondered if anyone owned a timepiece anymore. I haven’t worn a wristwatch for years. I have a fake Rolex that my wife found for me in a rummage box. I’ve worn it a few times feeling expansive. I took it on a cruise holiday once and I felt overly watchful of it. Regardless of my attention, I dropped it, cracking the crystal dial. It became a heavy burden on my wrist and my mind. I resigned myself to fixing it, now I keep it in a bedside drawer. I don’t want to watch the watch any longer.
Today I talked to my son who reported he had just bought a Fitbit. He wears it on his wrist so he can monitor his health. He can program the device to watch his heart rate, his REM sleep patterns, his daily steps and to remind him when it is time to get up from his chair. He feels it’s helping him to be more active. I felt comforted by the news of this purchase. Perhaps I was pleased that the digital device was watching over him, since I no longer can with such regularity.
Watching signs of the passage of time is a very watchable activity. I like looking out windows. I can be transfixed by the slow lengthening of shadows as time moves towards dusk. The sight of logs bobbing in rounded waves, then getting beached by the receding tide can tell me it is time to go home. The slow rise of an orange moon makes me wonder how many times I have witnessed the fullness of a complete day with someone I love.
Change is exasperating. It’s never just one thing that changes. Dominoes will fall! Lately my three year old phone failed to do what was expected. Being a smartphone made it a smart aleck. The problem seemed to be that it refused to communicate with other digital devices in my home. I tried password changes, account changes and rebooting (an old fashioned term?) But it was all for naught. By using the word naught I guess I’ve firmly placed myself in the pre-computer era. And that, despite my best efforts to remain tech savvy, is the problem with my general attitude concerning The Phone. I rant. Yet really I stand bewitched by this technology.
My dad would send me off on adventures when I was barely in my double digits with these instructions: Do you have coins in your pocket? Have you got your handkerchief? Call home if you have trouble. Calling home in those days meant finding a phone booth, which I learned how to use quite early in my life. Any call from a booth could connect me with the home phone, and if I was out and about someone was always home. Safety assured.
Safety is the number one reason parents in the tech era buy phone plans for their children. Safety is also the top reason adults cite for switching from home phones to cell phones. The phone was a lifeline for me in the late fifties and is truly a must-have for Generation Alpha. Needing a phone for emergency use is one thing, but now it is clear phones are so much more. The term smart phone is apt; mini computers they are indeed. With storage capacity, links to other digital devices, connectivity with more than just your mom is assured. The camera capability of a smart phone has changed communication; we can send a text of our meal, or hold police to account for their actions. We can start a Movement.
I’m in awe over how it has changed our culture, and I’m also intimidated. I’m trying. I’ve come to terms with the need to regularly update my device. I still talk English on my smartphone even though it has gone through several iterations of operating systems. My smartphone has regular conversations with my other digital devices so that things can continue to function. Somehow that doesn’t make me feel more secure. For old folks, being hacked has taken the place of falling down as the number one anxiety. Forgetting a password is tantamount to losing our wallets.
And yet we soldier on. I was one of the first on my block to buy a computer. I’ve had an early Star Trek phaser-like flip phone. I no longer have a land line. I know how to Facetime, Skype, Zoom and Tweet. I’ve just installed a new device that makes my television smarter so that I can stream new entertainment catalogues. My old phone will have to be replaced with an updated version. Like a little lost ET, I still need the comfort of knowing I’m able to call home. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xZif3WmG7I
No is a small word with powerful connotations. It can be used to send a message of finality, of desperation or of resolve. It is incontrovertible. It does not mean maybe. This is not the time for coaxing, bullying or cajoling. This is a word that must be respected.
When I am angry, the word No comes to mind quickly. My mental dictionary translates the feeling and I may end up shouting “Stop!” I never feel well after I have lost my temper. The emotion behind the thought of No is strong. It comes when you find yourself backed into a corner. You must quickly demonstrate that what is happening is not to your liking. Retreat is the order of the day. You are not deserting the field, only choosing to live on so that you can fight another day. No can be an active word in that it leads you to reshape what will happen next. Paradoxically, sometimes before getting to Yes we have to say No.
No is a levidrome. Its twin is On. Herein lies an amusing puzzle: In the binary world On would represent the opposite of No. So from analog to digital we have a yin/yang mystery. No implies that we have turned off, turned away, or maybe even turned ourselves inside out. We need a rest from decision making for a spell. The lights are out. The Off switch is engaged and taped down. Please leave us alone while we go into shutdown mode. Processing. Processing.
There was a time after the death of my first wife when my decision making circuits were shut down. Every time my brain came to a choice intersection, I would reflexively turn off. For a while I even forgot how to engage the On switch. Did it go up or down? Saying No outright was way easier than risking another foreign situation. I didn’t feel lazy so much as squeamish. My biological cyber security was in question. The passage of time helped. At some point I remember making a conscious decision to say yes more often. I spent less time weighing the options presented and more time engaging in the invitation. I recalled a mentor once saying to me that there is often a good reason why someone invites you to do something.
My new granddaughter is almost two and the only word she uses consistently is No. It makes me smile when I hear it. I wonder what awareness of the situation she has when she says it. She seems to know her mind and I act accordingly. For adults, in some situations it takes courage to say No. We may not want to let someone down. We don’t want to be misinterpreted. We don’t want to be labelled a poor sport or a Debbie Downer. We don’t want to turn people off. The fact remains that sometimes the word No needs to be said.
Even though No is a valid answer to a question, my life feels somehow better when I can get to Yes.