In the past two weeks I’ve moved away from Hawaii, celebrated Christmas in Phoenix, bought a car and moved to California. It’s been 11 days of constant motion, packing and unpacking, traffic, goodbyes and hellos. So yesterday I took my Sabbath and went out exploring with no particular agenda. I ended up at the largest Starbucks I’ve ever seen and bought a latte. As I waited for my coffee, I noticed that every single person filling the twenty-odd tables had some kind of screen in front of them. People were sharing tables but no one was talking, making eye-contact, or smiling. It struck me as odd, for a room to be so full but so devoid of life.
I grabbed my latte and went to sit outside in the sunshine. For thirty minutes I watched the parking lot bustle with activity. Drivers zoomed in and out of parking spaces with the nonchalance of stuntmen. They took corners like NASCAR drivers and I feared for the lives of pedestrians weaving toward their cars. Between bouts of fear, I finally had time to think about the new year and all the opportunities ahead.
I’ve never been into New Year’s resolutions. I’m naturally suspicious of trends and resist doing things just because scads of other people do them. I think it’s healthy to do some inner housekeeping and improve habits, I just wish resolutions didn’t come with a side of shame. I want to do things because I truly want to do them, not because someone or something has made me feel bad about myself. So instead of resolutions I likely won’t keep, I’m making a list of reclamations – practices I believe in, things that I can lean into in any way, and at any pace, I choose. With reclamations there’s no pressure of quick mastery, no measuring stick for success and no quotas. It’s just me inviting myself to pursue positive, meaningful things with a spirit of curiosity, hope and freedom. So here are my reclamations for 2015…
FACE TO FACE TIME – Screens are everywhere: tablets, smartphones, video games, and e-readers fill our hands. TVs have taken the place of art in waiting rooms, restaurants, and church lobbies. I’ve even seen TVs at the gas pump, in elevators and some public restrooms! While these devices can offer important information, entertainment and even some quality educational programs, they also snatch away my attention from living, breathing, human beings.
When was the last time you had a conversation with a friend or loved one without distraction? A meal or date night without texts read and answered? Family time that excludes scrolling through your Facebook feed? Actual words with friends rather than a scrabble game online? These are distractions that we choose over building and maintaining emotional intimacy with our loved ones. We choose screens over souls.
I choose screens over souls.
The more we look at screens rather than faces, I fear we will lose our ability to inspire each other to change and grow, to notice when we’ve hurt someone and seek forgiveness, to mourn together and to celebrate well, to get each other through the hard times and the doldrums. I want real connections with real people rather than sitcom characters. I want to read a friend’s facial expressions, to notice if they look tired or anxious, to offer them encouragement with my eyes as well as my words. If I want to reclaim connections with people, I have to rethink screen time.
Realistically, I know that screens are here to stay. I’m not starting a screen rebellion or going cold turkey with my electronics, but I do want to bring the wisdom of self-control to my screen time. I hope to thoughtfully create screen boundaries that will promote and preserve my relational and emotional health.
LIFE AT SANDALS PACE – Being back in California after living in Hawaii is a shock to the system. I went to college here, but I’d forgotten the hurried pace at which Californians move. Highway driving here can be downright scary – honking horns, wild lane changes, people intentionally cutting people off. Yesterday’s Starbucks parking lot was over-stimulating. Even as I sat drinking my coffee with nowhere to go, I couldn’t completely relax with everyone clipping along.
In contrast, Hawaiians seem to move with the gentle flow of the wind. Everything seems to meander in the tropics: traffic, work, people, turtles. Drivers are extremely courteous and always wait for pedestrians. Meetings start on “Hawaii time” – that’s like saying Africa time, or late – because you’re expected to pause and greet and maybe even catch up with the people you see on your way to the meeting.
No one seems to rush in Hawaii except paramedics. No one runs between 16 different activities. (To run in sandals is to risk your life, as every adult knows.) There’s always time to take the long way because it’s scenic, to point out a rainbow, to go to the beach, bury your feet in the sand and watch the sunset. Not all islanders live this way, but this sandals pace is a choice just like any other.
As I settle back into life in California, I want to live at a Hawaiian pace. I’ll try to keep my schedule from getting too full so the time I spend with people is unhurried. So I can be attentive. So Sabbath won’t be an adrenaline crash.
DO A WHAT-WHAT – Once a week as a school chaplain I served lunch to the 1st graders. One day, three of the girls were randomly touching their fingertips together above their heads like ballerinas in fifth position. They caught me looking at them, so I winked and mimicked them. They giggled and suddenly it became a game. They’d put up their arms and I’d improvise a little dance in the food line.
One of the girls asked me what I was doing. I responded, “What does it look like I’m doing?” She said, “Being silly!” Another girl piped in, “You’re doing a what-what!” Clearly that was new to me, so she added, “A what-what is something fun and new you make up. It’s something you’ve never done before and maybe no one will ever do again.” (How cute are six-year-olds?!)
During my seven months in Hawaii we had two hurricanes blow through. Both were downgraded to tropical storms before they hit Oahu, but we still had to stay inside for a few days. Before the rains came, I went shopping for supplies. When I discovered there wasn’t a flashlight left on the island, I wandered into Barnes & Noble. I bought two jigsaw puzzles, a sketchbook, and a hug set of colored pencils.
I’ve never taken a drawing class in my life. I can’t even remember the last time I tried to draw something with any serious concentration, but I surprised myself by spending hours attempting to draw a turkey. (Thanksgiving was coming.) I looked up some pictures on the internet and then did a what-what on paper. It was an experiment in shape and color and blending. I had no idea what I was doing or how it would turn out, but that didn’t matter. It was new, intuitive, playful, and full of freedom. I shocked myself to discover that I can draw something that looks real. My what-what turkey may not be gallery worthy, but I’d say it’s pretty good for a newbie.
I want to reclaim creativity in 2015. I want to feel again the pleasure of surprising myself with a skill I didn’t know I had, to fold new experiences into the every-day and expected.
So here I am, four days into a new year, ready to live more free, to be more attentive, more playful. I’m hoping to take the long way, to meander and make time for creativity on my way to some really great discoveries.