Dr. Dave Van Nuys, who has a terrific podcast called Wise Counsel, kept me on the ropes for almost half an hour. We covered a broad range of topics which included snow in New Hampshire, The University of Pennsylvania, driving with one’s eyes closed, the challenge of writing a bipolar memoir, and spiritual growth as a requisite element of recovery. We even took turns reading favorite passages from my book. “Dr. Dave” is a fascinating guy in his own right, and an extremely skilled interviewer.
When I begin counting my blessings I quickly run out of fingers and toes. Of course, there are the obvious ones – Manic Depression and Alcoholism – both of which have given me more than I could ever repay. But those afflictions are commonplace.
I also have a rare blessing, an unsolicited gift bestowed upon me by a higher authority. It is: I know exactly why I exist and what I am on earth to do. The point of me, the purpose, is clear. I am here to turn my bizarre life experience into balm for fellow travelers. However, I know that one is not afforded the luxury of choosing who one helps, and offering assistance to the ill is somewhat more difficult than one might imagine.
Every now and again it is imperative that I return to the concept that – Doing the right thing is its own reward. Once more I defer to the wisdom of Taz Mopula who said, “If you do the right thing because it is also yields the sweetest practical resolution, you’re already morally bankrupt.” In the damp basements my fellow dipsomaniacs often agonize over how to determine “the next right thing” – I find this disingenuous and somewhat amusing since the next right thing is usually easy to identify – it is almost always the choice that is harder, less appealing, and nets you little, if any, visible reward.
If you do the right thing in hopes of increasing the value of your stock in the eyes of others, you’re doomed. If you do the right thing with the expectation of reward, you’re doomed. I am so lucky that I started down this road involuntarily; otherwise I would never have chosen it. I began writing INVISIBLE DRIVING to save my own life, only later did it even dawn on me that it could benefit others. By then it was too late, I had my work order in hand – I knew what I had to do.
Of course, I had no idea at the time how much punishment I would receive for doing the right thing, but when you’ve spent season after season trudging the landscapes of Hieronymus Bosch, the concept of punishment really loses its meaning.
Picture a glorious living room on Christmas Day. Magnificent high ceiling, cozy fire, exquisite tree, vast windows overlooking thick woods. Now imagine it filled with various members of an extended, albeit cattywhumpus, family, many of whom have not seen each other for a year or more.
Now imagine that any conversation taking place is a tossed-off afterthought; the primary occupation of nearly all inhabitants is cell phone manipulation.
Now, to me, talking on or playing with a phone while in the presence of another person is rude beyond imagination. To be fair, my parents were both from Europe and very opinionated on this subject, consequently I have an old-fashioned sense of good-manners, propriety, and behavior predicated on respect for self and others. I am no longer surprised to watch civility slip into the mist where it can comfortably join the dodo. So, while I find the incivility appalling, I am not surprised by it.
What does surprise me is the almost thundering irony. This astonishing device – no longer anything resembling a phone but rather a palm-sized communications network – has apparently robbed us of our ability to simply be – to enjoy the presence of another – savoring stillness, silence, and calm – to listen, and then, having listened and considered – to respond thoughtfully and politely.
In a word, it seems as though our need to constantly fetch and transmit information has profoundly damaged if not destroyed our ability to converse. (Once again, these people are close relatives and have not seen each other for a long time; Christmas in this case is more than a pseudo-religious shindig, it is an important opportunity to revitalize old bonds and forge new ones.)
When I go into an AA meeting the chairman reminds all of us that cell phones must be turned off. The reason is simple, what we are doing is a matter of life and death and requires absolute concentration. (I will again quote Taz Mopula who said, “Multi-tasking is the art of doing many things badly at the same time.”)
Our obsession with gadgets has caused us to forget what many of us never went to the trouble of learning in the first place, that is – the most essential element of conversation is listening and if you are thinking about what you will say next after the other person finally shuts up you’re not listening, you’re treading water.
To simply witness the life of a loved one, to be with them, is a priceless gift that demands elimination of ego, however briefly. Hard to do that with a horrid monster in your pocket, constantly demanding attention.
Is there anybody left who still believes these little machines serve us, or is it now clear to all we serve them?