The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade
I probably should have felt panicky realizing that the spinning ball on the screen in my hand meant the device was no longer functioning. I was disconnected! No one could call me, and I could not call or text anyone. My tether to the etherworld of instant weather updates, instant camera, instant music, and instant distraction was severed. I was floating, my eyes unmoored from the slick screen that normally held my gaze whenever I needed to connect, whenever I was bored, waiting, impatient, or in need of entertainment.
Interestingly, however, I did not panic. Instead I felt a strange sensation of calm envelop me. Like standing at the window on a snowy morning and realizing there is nothing I can do but accept the blanket of white silence that has temporarily suspended my plans. I had an excuse not to check in, not to feel the incessant demand of my attention with every ping and aural notification.
Of course not having the phone did have the potential to create real problems. We gave up our landline phone last year to save money, so I would have to rely on my husband’s phone if I really needed to make a call. And I am a pastor, so being available to my parishioners is imperative. So on my computer I sent out a Facebook message and congregation-wide email letting people know of my situation. I could check messages from other phones, but would not be able to receive or answer texts. And I wouldn’t be immediately accessible as I usually was.
But, surprisingly, the world did not unravel around me. In fact, what I discovered was a reservoir of mental energy that has allowed me to gather my psychological threads back into some semblance of sanity. Checking my phone, I realized, had become a nervous habit akin to biting my fingernails. Without a phone to check, I noticed my awareness of my surroundings expand. Without a screen to swipe I felt my attentiveness stretching out with greater continuity, uninterrupted by flashing lights alerting me to a text, a Facebook update, a phone message.
Certainly, I worry that I will miss something important. But those who need to contact me know other ways to reach me. And I have discovered that there is great freedom in having a phone-sick-day. As it turned out, a day stretched into a weekend, stretched into a week, and is stretching into ten days. Due to complications with the company, the wait for a replacement is taking longer than expected. But when the issue was resolved today and I was told by the company representative that my new phone would arrive in 2-3 business days (rather than overnight, as I suppose I could have demanded), I did not fret about how I would survive without my phone for that long. Instead I relished the thought of at least 3 more days of quietness, being exempt from virtual distraction.
It occurred to me that today is the first day of spring, the vernal equinox. There is an equal amount of daylight and darkness. Day and night are perfectly balanced for this one day. How serendipitous that in these days approaching and relaxing into the equinox, I would receive the gift of balance by the temporary loss of my cell phone.
This year I did not elect to “give up” anything for Lent. The thought of disciplining myself to withstand deprivation when I am already so driven just seemed ludicrous to me. I did not set my mind on any kind of Lenten fasting. But a Lenten fast found me instead. I would never have chosen “giving up my cell phone” as my Lenten discipline. But I am so grateful that at least for these ten days, the choice was made for me. Perhaps a regular practice of cell-phone Sabbaths are in my future. . .