This I Believe

Doug - Sacramento, California
Entered on July 27, 2007

I believe in being present, in finding ways to escape the constant noise to live with simple honesty away from the distractions brought on us by a world moving too fast.

A few months back, I was home visiting my mother in Pittsburgh. I told her I needed to make a phone call. All she said was: “You know where it’s at.” And I did.

The only telephone in my mother’s house is attached to a wall in her kitchen. It has a cord and a rotary dial. It is the same phone that she has had since moving into our house some 45 years ago. She has never upgraded to one of those fancy push button phones. Nor has she ever gotten an answering machine; she can answer her own phone, and she does. If the phone rings, she answers it. She does not screen calls. And when she is not home, she is not home. The phone simply rings and rings.

It takes a real effort to use that phone. You need both your hands. There are no shortcuts, no speed dial, no memory dial. Nope. I have to dial each number, put my finger in the hole of the rotary dial and turn that dial and wait for it to go all the way back. Then dial the next number. It takes honest to goodness commitment to use that phone. You have to really want to make a call. You have to have something to say. And when you talk on that phone that is all you can do. No multi-tasking. You actually get to have a conversation with the other person. One without the distractions of near fatal car accidents or of having the call dropped. Mom’s phone never drops a call.

I worry about my children’s tendency to reach so quickly for their phones, to move outside themselves, instead of taking more time with themselves by going into their own thoughts and discovering places for reflection. I wonder what has happened that has made us so frightened of looking into ourselves. It has become far easier to distract ourselves with texting and calling others than it is to actually slow down and sit still with our lives.

Everywhere we go we carry these phones with us. We take phones shopping, we take them to school, we take them for walks around the neighborhood. Not my mother. She leaves her phone at home, all alone, attached to the wall.

When I call my mother I never have to ask her where she is. She is standing in the kitchen. I see her there. Home. The kind of grounded certainty that comes with truth and trust. No one can invent such grounding; it is a practice, a way of experiencing life. We need to be careful not to lose this grounding, not to get lost in always being available to others before we forgot how to honor our own selves.