While I was driving my thirty-something daughter to her surgery the other day, she looked at me with her jaw firmly set and her eyes displaying a fierce intensity and said, “If I die on the table…”
“That’s not going to happen,” I interrupted, holding up my hand. “It’s knee surgery.”
But then again, when going under anesthesia, anything can and does happen. Of course, I kept this thought to myself as my mind went off to that sentimental place where images of my family are stored. I waited for her to continue. I expected her to say, “Tell my children I love them.” Or to begin babbling about what a wonderful mother I’ve been. Or even talk about a secret hiding place in her room where I would find a special seashell to give to her daughter.
What she did say came as a shock.
“Listen, if I die, the password to my phone is 2526.”
What? I threw my hand against my chest, but I didn’t speak. I merely repeated her password, swallowing my surprise, as she was already in a fragile state of mind.
But before a nanosecond passed, she went on. “Please don’t forget it. This is really important. I have letters to my kids on my phone and I want you to make sure they read them. And I have hundreds of photos. And poems. And all my banking information. Everything. Every single thing that means anything to me is on this phone.” She shook it in my face. “So, don’t forget.”
I knew we were living in a digital world, but this really drove the point home. Her request, which at first seemed absurd, made perfect sense. Our phones have become an extension of ourselves, an extra limb. They help us navigate the quickest route from one place to another. They remind us when to take a pill. They wake us up when it’s time for work and lull us to sleep with our favorite music. They can even keep track of our menstrual cycles.
If we leave the house without our phone, most of us feel a void, a disconnect from reality. The world has become smaller, the phones connecting us to places and people we would never have met in the past, yet at the same time it’s become less personal.
I thought back to my foot surgery a few decades ago. Like my daughter’s, it wasn’t life-threatening. And like her, I did set things in order. I paid all my bills by checks. I wrote (by hand) a list of important things for my family members. This list did include the password to my AOL account. But only so my husband would know who to notify if something should happen to me.
But what I remember most is that it was a time of reflection. Without the distraction of social media, I had a great deal of time to merely think. I felt no pressure to post a minute-by-minute recap of my recovery. Or to obsess about how many “likes” I got for taking my first step in six months. I had enough to worry about without spending hours on the correct wording for a potentially viral tweet. At the end, I met a better version of myself.
This is what scares me most about our current obsession with social media. Are the youth of today ever alone with their thoughts? Unless they leave their phones behind, (which often causes anxiety centered on what they are missing), there is that constant tug to check Snapchats, emails, tweets, status updates.
Do they ever sit and stare at the sunset without taking a photo? Do they ever sit at a coffee shop and simply watch the world go by without having to post a comment? Do they value time alone with someone they love? Or is the need to broadcast every mood and action becoming part of our youth’s DNA?
When we live to tell rather than tell what we have lived, are we altering the experience before it has time to take a shape of its own?
As James Stewart’s character says in “The Greatest Show On Earth,” “Don’t believe everything you hear and only half of what you see.” So it is with social media. It twists and spins reality into something fictional.
If only my daughter could look inward during her recuperation. Perhaps she can. But I know she’ll be posting a photo of her knee the minute she is alert.
Seconds before they wheeled her off, I held her hand. I pressed my lips against her cheek and whispered everything would be okay. I’d see her in a few hours.
“Take my photo,” she said, giving me a scared smile.
Reluctantly, I pulled out my phone but the battery was too low to take a picture.
“Did you get it?” she asked.
“Yes. It’s right here.” I placed my hand on my heart.
It was a private moment between mother and daughter. I was going to keep it that way.
Janie Emaus is a writer and blogs at janieemaus.com.
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