I recently watched the sun set for the first time in a long time. I mean, truly watched it. No distractions, no checking messages or Instagram or Facebook. I set my phone down, put my devices aside and tuned into nature. It was amazing what I saw. I saw a multitude of color glistening across the water and the silhouette of a coconut palm highlighted by a cone-shaped ray of light that was cast upon the water. The sun sank low until a strip of clouds divided it and it grew to what appeared to be double its size, glowing like a giant orb. It sank lower and lower until it melted into the ocean. You know those sunsets, where the lighting is just so. It's like the sun, representative of the entire cosmos, is reaching through the universe to give you alone a show. It seemed to be fading from this world and leaking into another dimension. It drifted ever so slowly out of sight until the last few rays disappeared over the horizon, and its remaining sparkles on the water drained away with it. I may have even caught a glimpse of the green flash. But I can never be sure that it’s not just my eyes reacting to the shock of changing color spectrum once the sun disappears. Even after it was gone, the pinks, baby blues and soft oranges lingered on. If I were fumbling with my phone and trying to capture the moment, I may well have missed this whole magical scene. I quietly soaked it all in until the mosquitoes drove me indoors.
In the midst of it all, I had wondered how many people were watching the sunset that evening. Or how many were watching, but were too distracted with taking photos of it to truly be immersed in it. So often I see a beautiful moment, and all I witness are phones emerging. How much of the experience are you really taking in by filming it? And we all know that photos never, ever do justice to what we witness in real life. We are so distracted these days that we aren't living in the present. We seem to be living in a cyber world; an alternate reality.
My grandmother, Ruth McCausland wrote a beautiful book in the late 1960's called Weekender's Island - her descriptive and enchanting accounts of escaping bustling city life, to a simple island existence surrounded by songbirds and ocean waves. This was long before smart phones were a glimmer in anyone’s eyes, but she still dealt with the distractions of her time. In an excerpt, she describes her city life in the 1960’s and it has always struck me how resounding it is to the current day. Technology has changed in the last 50 years, but human's ability to get caught up in distractions and devices as a means to "simplify" our lives has not changed.
"Look and listen to the average home of today. There are rrrings, grinds, whines and hisses. Add some whumps, rumbles, and more rrrings. Sounds belonging to a factory? Ask any housewife and she can tell you they are the rrrings of the telephone, the voices of the dishwasher, the vacuum cleaner, the lawnmower, the electric can opener, blow fan, and an endless procession of other items called conveniences now standard equipment in her home. Isn't it ironic these noises pour forth from within and without the walls of a family's dwelling place as a result of the continual attempt to make life more and more comfortable for its occupants?
Dinner is ready and the television "ON" button is pressed, allowing the six o'clock news with its cheerful and appetite-stimulating messages of world affairs to accompany the family while eating. When mealtime is finished, some gadgets are put away with others coming into use. Gradually the noises cease their daily invasion until Mother can close the cupboard door next to the sink in which awaits until tomorrow the aspirin or tranquilizer bottle. She can now escape into a world of quietness and dream about the coming weekend when the family can, if all goes well, live for a few hours in a state of tranquility not to be found in a bottle."
My grandparents, my dad and his brother went to their island property on summer weekends where they stayed in a simple camper. It was there that my grandma felt that she could finally disconnect from the busy-ness of daily life. Can anyone disconnect these days? Its fewer and farther between that people are truly immersing themselves in the moment. I remember the sunset used to be the center stage of our summer evenings at our beach cabin. We’d drop what we were doing, grab our cocktails and high tail it down to the beach to watch the day go out with a bang. I miss the simpler times without phones, electronics, and an epidemic of hanging heads while we stare at glowing screens. We used to roll our eyes with exasperation when the house phone rang. And sometimes you just didn't answer it!
I held out for a long time. I didn’t get a smart phone until several years ago. I lived and worked in the islands, with no need to have a bunch of fancy apps following me around, that now constantly gnaw at my mind. Check it again! You might have a new Like! I miss the days without these phones. Even resorts that specifically don't offer WiFi as a means to "get away from it all" are struggling to stoically hold their ground. I secretly wish all these phones implode and we would forget about this technology. We are efficient, but more than ever we are losing touch with ourselves, with nature, and with our surroundings.
One nice thing about unpredictable technology in the islands, is that your phone or internet could be down for hours - or days. When that happens, at first I feel a bit lost, but then I take it as an excuse to go outside, to putter in the garden, or take the dogs for a walk. It's one of those re-boot moments that life throws at you; a true blessing in disguise.