Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Cars and Telephones, and Computers, and Isolation

I've been thinking and writing for the past few of days on how the CTC's of life keep us connected and what happens when we lose these things. Gathering these thoughts and getting it all down is taking longer than I expected but here now are these thoughts.

I am old enough to remember partylines and despite the way that sounds, I am not talking political doctrine or 800 numbers. No. What I am talking about are telephones. For those of you who are part of the cell phone/blue tube generation, you may not know that at one time people shared phone lines. They were called partylines. Today we are beeped if we have incoming calls while on the phone. Back then, we would hear a click if we were on the phone and that was a signal that someone on our partyline needed to make a call. Politeness dictated that we free up the line.

Oh how things have changed. Now we screen calls, ignore calls, block calls, and God knows we don't call back, we just end one call quickly and go on to the next one. So, what in the world, you may ask, got me going on this? Well, a few weeks ago my friend Vicci, who has only a landline, found herself, due to severe weather, intermittently without a telephone and a computer for email. Then her car died. Here she was, a rural living woman caring for her 90 year old father, husband at work and no way to communicate to the world. The results? Isolation.

But WHY isolation? Why not solitude instead? What makes solitude feel positive and isolation feel negative. Is one chosen? Is the other imposed? Is the one pleasing? Does the other feel empty? Can we turn isolation (a negative) into solitude (a positive)? Deep questions all and I find that I am turning to Dark Nights of the Soul by Thomas Moore for insight.

Back in my early 20s I first heard of the philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin. This was my first exposure to the idea of a dark night. Then I learned about St. John of the Cross. I saw Gerald May's book on the subject and eventually discovered that the dark night is something that we all encounter. Dark night has certainly been knocking at MY door lately. But it was Vicci's problems with communications that underscored to me how much we, all of us, need each other. It was Vicci's problems with communication that underscored how global meeting people has become and how fragile the maintenance of these friendships and the maintenance of family ties has become. Without computers, Vicci and I would have never met. Without a telephone, we would have never connected for that coffee meet-up at Starbucks that first time we met face to face. Without the computer and cars we would have never been able to share the Day of Art at Penny's house in November 05. That fragility needed a cure and I recently started sending postcards to friends and find that this little written form of communication is both anticipated now and deeply appreciated. It has become my way of not being so dependant on fast modes of communication in such a wired world as we now live in.

Winter has been brutal this year. Well as brutal as it can get for a flatlander like me who does not live in a flood zone and simply has to put up with a lot of rain. But for Vicci, relentless snow and rain has narrowed her world to the occasional ability to move outside of her rural home. And when the car died her world narrowed even further. Her isolation was a huge frustration for HER and by extension, a frustration for all who care about her and want to be in touch with her. However, her "isolation" did turn into a positive, at least for me. It started me on the road of thought about my own "isolation" and how it may be turned into solitude instead and thereby an avenue of change for me.

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