Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pondering The Way Things Used To Be

Several things have happened recently that have set my mind to pondering. Pondering isn't something that I typically have time to do. After all, my days are spent juggling many balls which usually creates some serious mental overload. It started at dinner with friends a few days ago. One of the dads was being teased over his bumbling of text messaging acronyms and abbreviations. Not able to dicifer messages from him, his teenage daughter had told him, "Dad, just do it the old-fashioned way." We had a good laugh at his expense and compared the means of instant communication between kids today versus how we actually had to wait until the next school day to share the latest and greatest news. I continued my pondering as I attended the funeral today of an older cousin. Ed died at the ripe old age of 92. In my mind, he will forever be a quiet, middle-aged man with a round belly, semi-balding head, and a ready smile. As often happens during a funeral service and wake, we reminisced, shared stories, and viewed a collage of old photos. A flood of memories flowed of childhood days and a lump grew in my throat. I wished I could talk to my dad or have an "eating contest' with my Grandma Hughes. I used to trick her like that to get her to eat. Thinking back, I'm not sure who was tricking whom. (After all, my nickname then was Skinny Minnie). Adding to my pondering is the ever-present awareness of the battle that a close friend is fighting with cancer. I will share more about that later.

I recently had some miscommunication with some of my adult children. Mind you, our family has every means of communication available - cell phones, Blackberries, I-Phones, laptop computers, pc's, telephones. . . Communication should be easy, right? Not always. Let me just say that I love having an information highway at my fingertips. I love having an online store that is open 24/7 to the world. I am a self-confessed Facebook junkie. Nevertheless, having the objects of communication can't guarantee that we properly convey our thoughts, our intentions, our heart. Our miscommunication caused some hurt feelings. I found myself thinking about the way life used to be.

Remember the rotary dial telephone? Sometimes dialing the number took longer than the conversation itself! Phone numbers were only seven digits, and you remembered the number by Tyler 6 (896) or Midlake 4 (644), etc. The digit *1* was added to long distance numbers. There were extra charges for long distance calls, so those were limited. We got busy signals instead of voicemail. Today we have the convenience of cordless land line phones with numbers programmed into speed dial. We have unlimited long distance calling. The cumbersome *car phone* that plugged into the cigarette lighter and was used only for emergencies is long gone. Cell phones are portable computers and fit in our pockets.

Back in the olde days, we used to write letters that were sent via snail mail. I had pen pals, and Mom wrote letters to my aunts who lived out of state. We usually got several letters each week, and we all took turns reading them to hear the latest news. Sometimes there was no news but just a short note that said nothing but everything. Today we rely on email. Email has made letter writing obsolete. We can send a message across the world and receive a reply in a matter of seconds. We use email for everything from personal to business to merchandising to advertising to whatever. It is instant communication, although one-sided until our Inbox says otherwise. With Blackberry phones and I-Phones, our inbox goes everywhere we go. Instead of waiting for the mailman to deliver mail six times per week, we receive mail 24/7 with a ding, a chirp, or a buzz.

Then there is texting. Texting could pretty much replace emailing as it usually demands an instant response. Cell phones with texting capabilities are more common than a #2 pencil, and kids have their own special texting language. I still laugh whenI see a post on Facebook that says something to the effect of "Going to bed. Text it." I still haven't figured out who it is and how texts are sent while sleeping. In the olde days, we wrote notes and prayed that they didn't fall into the wrong hands. Of course we had our share of codes: BOLA, RMA, AFA, etc. (Just take a look in any of my high school yearbooks).

Socializing used to be done on the playground, in the lunchroom, on the ball field, in after school clubs, dances, church activities, neighborhoods, Scouts, etc. We could have a fight one day, sleep on it, and be best friends again the next day. Our friends were just that, and nothing made a kid happier than having a good, true friend. Today's friends are part of an army of names and thumbnail photos on a Facebook or MySpace page. We can categorize them, hide them, eavesdrop on them, private message them, chat with them, block them, defriend them, and sadly we can forget we are even friends with them. We can know what they do on a daily basis without ever talking to them just by reading their *wall*. And we call it communication.

So, why do I wish life could be as it used to be? I miss the simplicity. I miss hearing Mom say, "We have company!" and seeing a familiar car in the driveway. I miss hopping in the car and going to visit relatives. Depending on the geographical location, we might have gone down (to West Virginia), up (to Pennsylvania), in (to Akron) out (to Atwater), or over (to anyplace in between). N0 one made an appointment, no one scheduled a visit. It was just the way life was. I miss the respect for one another that is lacking in so many families. I hate how we are so stressed and pressed and distracted by life and obligations. I hate how our time with family is constantly interrupted by our incessant desire to check our emails, voicemails, or Facebook updates. I hate how we use text messages and emails to say things that we would never say face to face. I hate that I feel frustrated when my scheduled life gets interrupted. I hate how we guard our lives with high thick walls. I hate the fact that I am guilty of all those things.

Funerals, along with serious illness, tend to put things into perspective. Our close friend, Jake, (who is our son's father-in-law) recently received bad news from his doctor. Jake spent four weeks in the hospital and just recently came home under the care of his family and visiting nurses. Fathers' Day was very special for him that he was able to sit outside his home with his beloved family. We rejoiced that Jake was with us, that he is fighting, that his spirit isn't broken. It was different than other outings. There were no rambunctious corn hole games. Conversations were more quiet, almost reverant. It was hard to mask the incredible sadness that we all felt. Later as Jake had settled in for the night, we said our goodbyes for the evening. It has become very easy to say "I love you." I gave Jake a hug, and he started telling me how proud he was of my son and how much he loved and appreciated him. He wept, and I felt like my heart would burst. I wanted so badly for life to be the way it used to be, before so many changes of the past year and now cancer. Jake will continue to fight, and those who love him will support him in the fight. He communicates the love of his Savior and his love for his family. Just like waiting for the old rotary dial phone to connect to a loved one or handwriting a letter, he intentionally communicates with those he loves. Time together is precious and everyone seems to have a little more focus on one another and less focus on themselves.

Life will never be exactly as it used to be for any of us. We trust our lives to the One who holds our tomorrows. I pray that when my children and grandchildren look back at how life used to be, their memories will bring a smile. I pray that regrets will be few and that our family clearly and intentionally loved and bore one another's burdens, who patiently endured each others' shortcomings, who nurtured and encouraged, who rejoiced together, who had fun just being together maybe saying nothing but sharing everything.