One of the great wonders of the modern era is the fact that we can pretty much reach anyone at any time, regardless of distance, time or necessity. This is both blessing and burden.
Spontaneous, unfiltered conversations are not always good for the heart. Some topics are best left to marinate in a sauce of equal parts tact and prudence, a practice that doesn’t seem particularly popular these days when everyone from celebrities to children fire off one ill-advised statement after another. A ready keyboard and an ever-present cell phone have proven to be the new bullhorns of our time.
Eons ago, when I first left home for college, communicating with my parents was an expensive process that required advance planning. Since dozens of girls on my dorm floor shared one phone, and it was down the hall across from the communal bathroom, I quickly realized the best time for a tete-a-tete was early Sunday morning, when everyone was sleeping off the rigors of partying.
Because I was, and still am, an inveterate list maker, I would prepare a cheat sheet to ensure I covered all essential topics. Emergencies were handled in costly collect calls, so I quickly learned that what seemed like a crisis one day often was not by the following morning.
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Of course, those hurried conversations did little to texture and layer the parent-child relationship. When I returned home for the holidays, my mother and father thought I was still the girl they had reluctantly sent off to study. I wasn’t. I had become a woman, but they had witnessed only the first and last scenes of that evolution.
These days we don’t think twice about speed dialing. More than once I’ve had to whisper all kinds of instructions and admonishments into my cell phone — “Stop whining and stick to your budget!” — much to the amusement of my colleagues. I now understand that making myself so accessible, whether to adult children or friends or bosses, blurs the boundaries I need to maintain my sanity.
Calls, of course, are not the only ready form of communication. Texting is a family favorite, so much so that my kids have informed me of stellar job reviews, long-sought promotions and inevitable disappointments as soon as they happened. Long before Facebook bought WhatsApp, making that unknown company famous, I had downloaded the mobile messaging app to my phone so I could connect with a son studying in Spain for a semester.
What’s a few thousand miles to the latest technology? Just this month, I’ve chatted, emailed, texted, Skyped and FaceTimed my kids, whether they were in San Antonio or Barcelona or the next ZIP over. Which means I know more about their lives than my parents ever did about mine. This invites a certain intimacy, which is good and sweet and enjoyable. But…but...
Caveat emptor: Intimacy makes you vulnerable. It opens you up to worry.
During a recent business dinner, I received a series of texts, with pictures, detailing one granddaughter’s trip to the emergency room after a wooden stool she was climbing landed on her face. Nothing like Technicolor immediacy to make you heartsick.
And during my last FaceTime session with my youngest son, I found out he and his study-abroad friends had stayed up all night during a sojourn to the party-island of Ibiza. He was bleary-eyed and exhausted.
I would rather not have known. I wouldn’t be so stressed, so anxious, so uneasy . Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente. Loosely translated: Eyes that cannot see, heart that cannot feel. Or what you don’t know won’t upset you. Now I understand why, sometimes, ignorance truly is bliss.