The Worst Feeling in the World
I found her at the top of the hill, near the ice-skating rink by a pile of snow. Snow in September? The kindly old man playing with his grandson informed me that the Zambonis dumped the ice they shaved from the top of the surface out here. Okay then.
How did she, my daughter, get up here so fast? I was helping my wife with something over the phone. My daughter had been playing on the playground equipment not ten feet in front of me. And yet, when I looked up, she was gone. So was the gentleman whose slightly older son had been playing with her.
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No problem, I thought. She was by the swings. Or maybe the slides. Or on the tennis courts. Or the athletic fields in plain view on the other side of the playground?
Except she wasn’t.
I called her name. Nothing. I called her name louder. Still nothing. In a panic now, I started to ran. My heart beat so fast I felt like I was about to jump into a fistfight. Had that man taken her? Had she run into the road, chasing something she found particularly interesting?
My mouth went dry. This was the biggest mistake I had ever made. Should I call 911, or was I flipping out for no reason, a parade of horribles marching through my feverish mind? What was the proper protocol for reporting a missing child? I couldn’t remember what car that guy was driving, though I remembered what he was wearing (a red Fox Racing t-shirt, gray athletic shorts, and sandals) and his son (a blue t-shirt of Mario riding Yoshi). Would that be enough? Oh God, I was a failure as a man and a father.
I asked the young mother playing with her little son if she’d seen my daughter. I described her clothes (jean jacket over a white-and-orange striped shirt). Nothing. The panic really started to set in. I ran more, casting about under the mockingly clear skies like a proverbial movie character, dolly zoom on my anguished face. She was gone.
And then I saw the family by the picnic tables pointing up the big grass-covered hill that led up to the skating rink. “She’s up there!” an older lady yelled to me.
I took off, racing up the hill until I saw her playing with the little boy in the snow.
Relief flooded through my frazzled nervous system. My breathing slowly returned to normal. Oh, thank God, thank you Jesus, she was right there, snow crystals in her hand, marveling at the cold white stuff before her. “Hey! I’m sorry, I was on the phone with my wife and . . .”
“I was waving,” the old man said. “Guess you didn’t see me.”
Yeah. I guess I didn’t see him.
So we played in the snow a bit. I told her not to run away from me like that. “Sorry daddy” she said with the sweet innocence of a four-year-old that could melt even the hardest man’s heart. It particularly sung because it wasn’t her fault. It was mine. Distracted by technology, bane of parents nationwide, I had taken my eyes off of her long enough to lose track of her, my flesh and blood, for only a moment. But a moment is all that it takes.
The thought that fills all men when they face a crisis hit me like a smack across the face from the Lord Himself: did I have what it takes?
* * *
I don’t know if I have what it takes. At that time, it sure felt like I didn’t. A few days later, it still feels like I don’t.
It didn’t matter that the matter I was helping my wife with was relatively time-sensitive. It didn’t matter that, at the end of the day, my little one was okay. All of that was hollow comfort, because what if something bad HAD happened, and it was because I was distracted?
You see parents on their phones all the time when their kids are enjoying the playground. I sure do from time to time. With the window into the entire world in your pocket, it’s a temptation worthy of the devil himself (now there’s some food for thought). Instead of turning inward into the mind, thinking of things, or—God forbid—being present, we instead retreat outwards via screen, touching fake things and communicating with people who aren’t even there, who might not even be real, bits and bytes in a computer while the little ones play.
That is not a good thing.
The challenge becomes being aware at all the time. Just because red flags aren’t going up in a given situation or environment, say like a playground, doesn’t mean that they’re not there. Parents should have a healthy sense of paranoia, which is something I think mothers have more than fathers. The world of women is different. Physical danger is more present. It’s an undeniable statistical fact that men are more violent, more prone to things like, oh, I don’t know, kidnapping and all of the horrors that entails. Even in my safe, low-crime area of residence.
Not a comforting thought.
So is the answer to suspect every single person of being a predator-in-waiting? That could help, but it’s not a particularly healthy way to go through life. Always being on edge . . . suspecting every smile and kind word of hiding a knife ready to thrust between your ribs . . . never trusting and always seeing people as monsters until they prove otherwise by increasingly insurmountable criteria . . . that’s not for me. It’s not my personality. Not my style.
I think the real answer is awareness. Just be cognizant of what is going on around you. Resist the temptation.
Screens are everywhere. It’s hard for me to write this without a screen, because otherwise I’d have to draft a post longhand and, I don’t know, fold up the paper and stick it in my disk drive, hoping the words contained therein somehow find their way through the series of tubes that make up the Internet to get onto the server in machine-readable form and hopefully translated into human-readable form for you to enjoy.
It’d likely just end up with a mashed bit of paper and a nonfunctional laptop, but I think you understand what I’m getting at.
Whew! I almost typed the word “grok,” a word I can’t stand, instead of “understand.” How’s that for being aware?
These devices are tools. Tools are supposed to be wielded by humans. A hammer can’t use you, unless you’re crazy and think it’s somehow communicating with you, telling you to do horrible things with it. But our devices use us more than we think. The compulsion is there. Come on. Scroll the feed. Check out news stories. Go down the Wikipedia rabbit hole about some obscure thought that just popped into your mind. Feed that thought. Feed it . . .
All of the world’s knowledge collected in one place, and we use it for frivolous distractions and other seedier purposes. If that’s not a commentary on human nature, I don’t know what is.
The machines can gobble our attention away from the important things that are actually happening in the real world around us. It’s awful.
Clearly, I’m too undisciplined to be trusted with such a powerful thing. Maybe the answer is to trade in the smartphone for a normal phone that just makes calls. There’s a product called a Light Phone that’s been calling to me lately. It is a phone that can take photos and hold music and I think that’s it. It’s totally functional for what a cell phone was supposed to be: a method of making phone calls without being tethered to a phone line. Amazing! What will they think of next?
Remember when BlackBerrys came out? People called them CrackBerries? High-powered executive types were castigated by their kids for using them to do work stuff on vacation. And rightly so. Your employer doesn’t own you, or they shouldn’t. Yes, the vacation penalty is real—the pile of emails awaiting your return to the real world, the stuff that you could’ve taken care of just so you didn’t have to upon getting back to the office. Stuff that slipped through the cracks because you dared go somewhere with your family.
The thing is, that stuff you take care of on vacation will just be replaced with more stuff, nearly instantaneously. There really is no point in using these devices—labor-saving devices, we used to call them—to create more work for yourself while you’re ostensibly away from the office.
Now, though . . . now these devices distract us from work. They are a constant source of instantaneous amusement to keep us focused on everything except what we should be working on. Statisticians have compiled the numbers to mathematically demonstrate the loss of productivity wrought by the Internet broadly, and smartphones in particular. On the one hand, you may be applauding labor’s ability to goof-off on company time and stick it to The Man, but put yourself in the shoes of a small business owner and you’ll see that this matters.
Or think about your own life. Are you an artist or a writer or other creative type? How much time do you fritter away on devices when you could be working on your craft? Think about the stories unwritten, music unplayed, canvases that remain blank, because it was more enticing to play some online game or get into a feud with some clown on social media (this will also raise the question of who the real clown is)?
Blackpilling? Sure is. I am guilty of this myself. At the end of the day, it’s much easier to watch some stupid video or surf the ‘net that it is to hunker down and work on my own artistic endeavors.
We are amusing ourselves into oblivion, to paraphrase a Roger Waters album title. We are losing touch with the world and the people around us in real time. They say that young people aren’t dating and forming families at rates necessary to sustain a functioning civilization. Of course, technology is not the only factor we can blame here, but it is a factor.
It is a factor that made me lose track of my daughter on a playground one sunny weekend not too long ago. It is a factor that makes me feel like I am wasting my potential on pointless things. It is a factor that, far worse, made me feel like an utter failure of one of my most fundamental requirements of being a father and a man: protecting my family.
And that, my friends, is the worst feeling in the world.
And yet somehow, I’m still able to write books despite this all. Check out my awesome first novel, A Traitor to Dreams, which partially deals with the destructive–some might say seductive–aspects of technology.
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