What We Value and What It Means to Wait

This will be a tough piece to read.   Occasionally I feel the need to write about very tough subjects and then I ask myself whether I should share the piece with others.  It is something to ponder as I like to see others happy and smiling and I feel a bit guilty when I share a piece that will have the opposite effect.  Still, I also remind myself that in this life, “happy and smiling” may not always be the correct objective. Sometimes there is no happy and there is no smiling, but perhaps wisdom may come instead…even with sadness.

Our world is full of devastating painful events and as human beings, we are expected by society to process them however we can…be it with grace, with calm, with respect or with anger and outrage, or all of the above. Not one of us receives a manual at birth on how to process horribly painful events and still hold on to our serenity. Absolute serenity in this life is a challenge like few others. I have read much about people who say they have achieved it, but I admit I remain skeptical.

The event that I am processing and pondering and mentally reviewing in my head today (while trying to maintain my serenity) is a news story from the other day that I read online: this week a 13-year old girl in New York City dropped her cell phone on the subway tracks and climbed down onto the tracks to retrieve it herself.   As she was trying to climb back up to the platform, the train came into the station. She was killed.

This is a story, of course, that is staggeringly painful on so many levels. My heart is shattered again and again as I imagine the scenario.  A life is over…because a young girl did not want to lose her cell phone.

I think about what a cell phone is in these times – a 4 x 3 inch square piece of plastic and metal. Inside it are photos, videos, contact information, calendar items, a connection to the internet. These things have become valuable in our times. As humans, we value our cell phone as much as any other item we own.

It is our life-line to others. It holds our memories (i.e. photos and videos). It keeps us connected to those we love as often and as quickly as we like – by phone, social media, email or text message.

We love our cell phones in strange ways. We carry them with us wherever we go and panic when we think we may have lost them or fear they may not work.

As a child and for about half of my adult life, cell phones did not exist. My most valuable possession as a child was my diary or my records.   It was not possible to communicate with any one at any time.

Time was different when I was a child…there was more waiting, less instant gratification, at least in terms of communication. If I needed to call a friend, I was forced to wait until I arrived home from school to use the landline phone to call my friend. There were no cell phones. There was no email. There was no internet. I could write a letter or call from my home phone….but whatever I did, I had to wait….and I did.

Now there is no waiting, but sometimes there is tragedy.

The 13-year old girl hit by the train will never send another text or email or make another phone call or post another Facebook message or Instagram photo. She will never google the internet again. She is gone…perhaps because her heart loved her phone too much…so much that she would risk her very life not to lose it.

She was a child and as a child, it is likely that she may not have understood what she might lose or the horrible gravity of what she was risking.  I can only guess her thought process as she deliberated whether to take the risk to climb down onto the tracks to retrieve her phone. While she could have asked a transit employee to help her, my guess is that a. she was too embarrassed to ask for help and/or b….she simply did not want to wait.

We cannot blame the child…she was a child, after all, but should we blame ourselves? Who is to blame for a tragedy like this?

I think about this question and I ask myself another: what are we, as a society, teaching our children? What do our children value and why?  More than anything else, as adults, children watch us.  Children watch what we say, what we do, what we buy and what we value.

Children see us connected to our phones – constantly. When a child looks around the streets and subways and sees nothing but scores of adults, each hooked up to or holding, a phone, what must he or she think? When children look around their school and see their friends hooked up to a phone, what must they think? What is the message that they are absorbing, either consciously or subconsciously?

My guess is that the message is this: “I want to be like the people I see around me. I want to be like all the rest. I want to fit in. I want to be cool. I need a phone. I want a phone. I don’t want to wait.”

This is our world. We love our phones and we have taught our children to love their phones too. When we give a child a phone with all its advanced features, we are saying to the child, “Now you can contact me whenever you like. Now you can call your friends whenever you like. Now you can express to the world any thought you have…instantaneously. You can share memories and thoughts and feelings with any one at any time, instantly. You do not have to wait.”

In some respects, “waiting” has become a negative thing in our society (it always has been to some degree – I mean, who wants to wait after all?). Waiting is an inconvenience, something about which we complain. Nobody likes to wait, but as the speed of technology increases exponentially each day, each week, each month, each year, waiting has become less of an issue, especially when it comes to communication.

Instant gratification…at least technologically…is now possible.  I can express a thought or a feeling or a complaint instantly. I no longer have to wait.

I think about what it means to wait. It takes patience…not an innate human characteristic.  As humans, many of us do lack patience.  We are not fans of waiting – at the post office, on hold, at the check-out counter, in the bank, for pay day, for retirement, for the right job, for more money, to meet the man or woman of our dreams, to have a child.

Life has always been about waiting, but now, for the little things…especially for the purpose of communication…we wait less. Now we can speak our mind and express ourselves without waiting.

We have a president who has a thought and must express it now – instantly – he cannot or does not wish to….wait. The consequences of this inability to wait in a leader of the free world I will leave to your imagination. I suspect the consequences may not be pretty.

I am only speculating of course, but my guess is that the 13-year old girl who climbed down onto the subway tracks to retrieve her cell phone, loved her phone (at least in part) because, with that little device in her hand, she could have instant fun, instant gratification, instant communication…she did not have to wait.

The awful tragedy and waste of the story above is impossible to convey in words. As individuals and as a society, I ask myself what can we learn from this little girl’s horrible death?

My gut tells me that the answer may lie in examining more closely what we value…and why…and perhaps, the benefits we may not often see when we simply wait.

In my life I have seen the tragedy of waiting too long when immediate action is required…and now I have seen the tragedy of not waiting.

I’m not sure which is worse, but I’m thinking…for the sake of our beloved and cherished children…perhaps each of us should give some very deep thought about the lessons to be learned from tragedies like this….now.

Love,

Cinda

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