During a fraternity meeting just a few months before my accident, our president made it mandatory that all phones be placed in the middle of the table during a meeting. I grumbled to myself, “What is this, junior high?” Guys in the house razzed him for apparently losing sight of the fact that we had joined a college fraternity and not the Boy Scouts. He held his ground though, even going as far to quote his mother who always emphasized to “Love the one you’re with.” There is nothing that ups your cool factor more with your fellow fraternity brothers quite like quoting your own mom.
One year later I found myself in the basement of my parents’ house in my current physical condition. Five guys sprawled out on the couch as I sat adjacent, motionless in my wheelchair. I began to share a story but stopped shortly thereafter, realizing my lack of an audience. Looking around the room I only saw the top of five heads looking down, ferociously typing away on their cell phones. My natural reaction would have been to grab my own phone to idly pass the time, but my arms laid still on the armrest of my chair. So I just stared ahead, waiting my figurative turn in the pecking order and feeling rather insignificant.
It looks like there was some substantial truth in the wisdom bestowed by my fraternity president’s mom. This has been one of many subtle yet valuable lessons I could only have learned on the four-year journey I have been on. Preaching “put your phone away” may paint me as a technologically inept, old-school person who is not up with the times, but actually I was up there with the worst when I had the option prior to my injury. I would rarely look up from my phone, regardless of who I was talking to. I would keep it on my lap back at my parents’ house for dinner, much to my mother’s dismay. While always attempting to put on the illusion that I was listening, I could not have been more oblivious to my indiscretion.
With no choice but to look straight ahead, I find myself recognizing more and more how frequently the situations portrayed in the video above are displayed with those around me. I once paused in the middle of sharing a story with a friend to see if he noticed I had stopped talking. After a few seconds (while still looking down), he told me I could keep talking, assuring me he was still listening while pecking away at his phone. I smirked and facetiously responded saying, “Thanks for your permission.”
However, situations like this got me thinking. Could trying to hold a conversation with a guy who’s focused on something else with his head down be similar to how God feels when I’m too distracted in the world around me to pay attention to Him? The fact that sometimes I can’t read the Bible or just sit and pray without being tempted to distract myself with something else makes me realize that just because I don’t have use of my hands right now doesn’t mean I can’t revert back to old habits. Fortunately, it’s not too late and I’ve been made aware of it thanks to the idol our culture has made of the cell phone. While currently not having use of my arms isn’t how I would prefer to learn simple life lessons, it was a lesson learned nonetheless.
Whether I can hold a phone or not, I want to be present in the moment. The person I am with is infinitely more important than the latest text message, Facebook update, or Twitter feed that can be attended to later. With Thanksgiving tomorrow, I recognize I have a lot to be thankful for. Four years ago I laid in the ICU on a feeding tube while my family and other visitors took turns eating turkey out of my sight. Not only am I able to breathe and talk now, the eating will be fantastic. I’m looking forward to enjoying fellowship, food, and football with family. Thankfully, the phone will not be part of it.