While I usually find any reason to stay in and immerse myself in solitude over weekends, this time I decided to hide in the crowd of a busy coffee shop at the mall.
The Mugg & Bean was bustling with Saturday morning breakfast patrons, and so I settled for a tiny table in the corner, and buried myself in cake and a book.
A beautiful thirty-something mother with two children soon took the vacant table beside me, her daughter around twelve, and a son around ten years old. The mother really was a bombshell – beautiful complexion, perfectly applied make-up, recently highlighted hair, and fashionably dressed.
I’m a bit of a people-watcher at malls, and I couldn’t help but notice that the family sat in stiff silence for the majority of the thirty minutes that they were there. The mother was immersed in her phone for the most part, and the two kids exchanged only the odd comment now and then.
Once they left, the table wasn’t empty for five minutes when a man and his own two children arrived. He, too, appeared in his late thirties. Handsome, shaved head, clever-looking, and bright, friendly eyes. His son, aged about fourteen, was a split image of his dad, but with more hair, and the daughter, looking about nine years old, was a pretty olive-skinned girl with mouse-brown hair and a contagious giggle.
They were laughing about something even as they arrived at the table and tumbled into their chairs. The father sat forward, leaning on the table and hung on every word his kids spoke. He asked questions, he commented, he laughed. The two kids chattered away, their words rolling over each other’s words, but both happily sharing their dad’s attention.
They interacted for a good twenty minutes, and that is how I left them.
The difference between the two little families was so incredibly stark.
I try – I really do try – not to judge the pretty mother. I don’t know what is going on in her life, what challenges face her at work and home; when last she had some time alone; when last she felt valuable and fulfilled. But I did feel sad for her.
The father that followed her gave his children the most wonderful gift, one they probably don’t even know they have received: Not just his presence, but his being fully present.
Its not a new message – ironically, it’s all over social media. Psychologists have been talking about it for years. We are dwelling in a society where people are unable to nurture healthy relationships because we are constantly at the beck and call of our electronic devices.
We are addicted to newsfeeds, as if somehow ‘liking’ a picture or post holds more meaning than looking into the eyes of someone who is actually in the room with you. We send text messages, when a spoken word to the one you are “having coffee with” would go so much more ‘heard’ and appreciated.
Its not a new problem, and yet we continue to sabotage our relationships, over and over, in favour of that YouTube video that just couldn’t wait until later.
We are all fighting this battle against distraction, and the first thing we need to do is admit that we’re in a war. After that, its surprisingly easy:
Leaving you now with some light music, Meghan Trainor and John Legend’s “Like I’m Gonna Lose You”… But if you’re with someone at this moment, I simply insist that you either share the song with them… or come back later.
Wherever you are, be all there. ~Jim Elliot