We were sitting together on the couch one evening–an evening like so many others, well-worn with soft routine. On his lap was an iPad housed in a broken keyboard case. The keys stopped working long ago but he’s felt no compulsion to replace it. “The stand still works and I don’t really need the keyboard–it’s still a good case.” This from the man who suggested I replace my $MacBook Pro with Retinal display$ because it was three years old.
I am more guilt-prone than he, the one who usually scrutinizes our lives. I had been feeling uncomfortable with how much time we eat up in front of our screens.
“I’ve been thinking,” I broke the silence, my words directed at his profile. “What would it be like to put our computers away for a year?” Mister always takes his time answering. I usually endure a full thirty-seconds of non-response before I proceed.
“If we didn’t have this distraction, how much more productive could we be–more impactful?” Picking up speed, I rolled on. “We could read more…pray more…have more conversation…be more present.”
His face was lit in blue light. “That’s an interesting thought,” he offered.
The following week we headed out in Gladys, our small RV. I spent the morning of our departure reformatting my blog site and checking those ever-tempting stats–just one more time! (My nose scrunches up with that admission by the way.)
An upgrade notification from Apple alerted me so I robotically installed the operating system upgrade and headed out.
Don’t we all just want the latest version?
We stopped at Safeway in Madras, Oregon and parked next to an older high-top van obviously built out to live in. A lot of my computer time is consumed with YouTube–primarily channels on nomadic lifestyle, vandwelling, the tiny house movement and off-grid living. I’ve learned a lot about the van dwelling demographic. I fear it’s become an obsession.
On the way out of the store I said to Mister, “I’m gonna go over there and talk to that guy about his van.” I peeked into the opened side door where strains of moderately heavy metal music escaped.
I imagined the conversation would go something like this:
Me: Hi! Great van you have here…did you build it out yourself?
Van Guy: Oh hey! Thanks…yeah I did…wanna take a look?
Me: Sure…I am so fascinated by van dwelling. Are you a fulltimer?
Van Guy: I am–have been for two years. I love it and wouldn’t go back to sticks-n-bricks for nothin!
(He would then show me his build-out and I would show enthusiasm. I’d ask him if he’s heard of the YouTubers I follow. We’d engage in convo about solar panels and composting toilets and where he planned to spend the winter. We’d shake hands and part as new friends.)
Don’t we all just want some connection on this journey?
This is how the encounter actually transpired:
Me: Hi! (His expressionless face unsettled me but I continued cause that’s what I do.)
Angry Van Guy: (He tilted his head in my direction while masticating a cheek full of sub sandwich.)
Timid Me: I…um…noticed your van. I follow some YouTube channels about van dwelling…uh…(nervous pause)...are you a full timer?
Angry Van Guy: (He looked away and with his sub-free hand gestured around his crowded van.) Well…apparently I am. (He paused mid-bite.) And I stay off the geek farm. I’m not into that @*%~ and I don’t need a $200,000 contraption those rich fools buy.
Stupid Me: I don’t need one either. (I wanted to defend my 25 foot, twelve-year old used RV.)
Angry Van Guy: Look at me! See how thin I am? (He looked my fluffy middle-aged frame up and down.) I actually do @%~. I don’t just sit around watching other people do @%~.
Regretful Me: Uh…well, looks like you have yourself a comfy home here.
Still Angry Van Guy: Yeah…I did some stuff to it. (His eyes dart around, pointing to his work.) It doesn’t have a shower or a fridge but I get by just fine..its all I need. (Unspoken words leaked out of his angry eyes. Now leave me alone and mind your own $@#% business.)
Tongue-tied Me: Well…sorry to bother you…uh…thanks for…um…have a nice day.
Pitiful Angry Van Guy: Right.
Our interaction occupied my thoughts much of the trip. I wondered about his story and imagined his background. I prayed.
We later stopped in Redmond to grab a bite and some free wi-fi. Mister went inside to order while I opened my laptop. The geek farm he called it. The screen looked funny. It was black and filled with troubling computer code. I caught a few words as the tech narrative scrolled rapidly up my screen: <panic> debugger.
Panic was rising in me like mercury in August. I grabbed my phone and Googled. I hastily followed instructions I neither fully understood nor verified.
Don’t we all just want a quick fix?
After several unsuccessful reboot attempts I stared at a lifeless screen–swallowing a lump of fear that my computer had suffered a mortal blow. Too late to call tech support, we made our way to Wal-Mart for the night.
We located an Apple Store the next morning. A diagnostic confirmed my fears–the hardrive was empty, data as well as operating system.
It was like pulling into my driveway and discovering a pile of smoldering ashes had replaced my house. There was nothing to do but stand there while reality seated itself.
Bank records, business documents, photos, writing files, journals, software, important notes, saved web pages–all were lost with no back up to turn to.
I walked out of the store and into the daylight of acceptance. This is not the end of the world, I admonished my emotions! Like the code that flashed across my screen, numerous and rapidly successive thoughts scrolled across my mind:
- Didn’t I want to know what it would be like without a computer?
- I lost some data but what about the Haitians that lost loved ones, their homes and any hope of sustenance or sustainability ?
- There was the video posted by a little girl in Aleppo. Covering her ears, she swayed back and forth as bombs exploded outside her home? “We’re still alive,” she rejoiced.
- I thought about what that young husband in California had lost. His beautiful wife–the mother of his infant daughter–lost to an angry bullet in the line of duty?
- A mental image then slid into view: Tents erected under the freeway overpasses I saw in Seattle last week when I drove our stage 4 cancer friend to his sixth round of chemo.
- What of the woman who lives in her tiny car because she lost her job months before retirement–lost her pension in a bureaucratic wormhole? Social security won’t provide a roof over her head and three square meals so she follows good weather and lives on the road.
- And most pressing upon my heart is my niece. They were so excited about the arrival of their baby girl, but are now crushed under the weight of grief because a routine ultrasound revealed a rapidly growing brain tumor that will likely take their baby’s life before the baby will take a breath.
Don’t we all suffer under the crushing weight of loss?
When homes are leveled and lives are lost, when wombs are robbed and dreams disintegrate; when cancer displaces vitality and broken men have only bitterness to buoy them; when tents are no match for winter and pictures and stories can’t replace a mother’s embrace or anchoring love, what then?
Don’t we all just need someone to speak to the pain of it all?
Jesus speaks the words in red,
Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. (John 12:25)
This life has a way of coming up empty and this world has a way of promising what it cannot deliver. When our hope is placed in anything but Him, we will be crushed under the weight of our losses.
Of course we grieve. It’s human to bend with the winds of adversity in the storms of life.
But there is comfort found in the anchoring reality of the psalmist’s words:
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted, and he delivers those whose spirit has been crushed. (Ps. 34:18)
It’s interesting to note here that LORD in this verse is translated from Jehovah. “While Elohim exhibits God displayed in his power as the creator and governor of the physical universe, the name Jehovah designates his nature as he stands in relation to man, as the only almighty, true, and personal God.” (Quoted from biblestudytools.com) This is God who comes near, both physically and relationally.
He stands with us in our losses as the Almighty Last Word.
I spent the morning bowed almost wordlessly before the One who rewards faith and upholds the faithful.
As we lay our losses before Him, He proves his promise to fill those empty places with inexplicable peace.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, dear friends.