On Monday I prepared to travel to NYC to spend the night with friends, and then proceed the following morning to Takoma Park, Maryland, to spend the holiday with Bernie’s daughter, Alisa, and her wonderful family.
Long ago Bernie created a Travel List, one for him and one for me, an Excel sheet listing everything we need to take with us when we travel. First on the list was office items—computer, cable, hard disk, different phones, electrical adapters, etc.—followed by clothes and drugstore items—cosmetics, creams, shampoos, contact lens accessories, medications—and finally, at the end, study materials, teaching files, maps (eventually dropped in favor of GPS), gifts, you get the picture.
Over the years I’ve heard jokes about these lists, insinuations that only overly compulsive workers like us needed them. I don’t care. There isn’t a trip I’ve taken when I didn’t bless this list and am happy to share it with any overly compulsive reader who asks.
So, on Monday afternoon I packed a small valise with my clothes and a small backpack with computer, cable, and books. In New York I discovered that I left the backpack at home.
My first response was chagrin. Five days without a computer! That hadn’t happened since Genesis.
In the early 80s, my first computer had been a Compaq, a mobile version of their desktop which weighed about 40 pounds and which I actually took with me on various trips, including one long bus trip to Virginia. I couldn’t imagine being without one even then. And here I was, heading out for 5 days of digital desert.
The next thing I thought was: My blog! I’m limited in what I can do on my phone because my vision isn’t very good. How am I going to blog on Wednesday and Friday?
How am I going to report on cooking for Thanksgiving with my family, bringing a whole pile of Thanksgiving recipes I have been using for some 25 years? On seeing The Wizard of Oz in a special showing on a huge movie theater screen in Silver Springs? On warm walks with Aussie at Sligo Creek, bounding over fallen tree trunks or bending under half-fallen ones, Aussie beside herself with unfamiliar smells? On watching the movie Wonder with my grandson and doing some heavy talks with him on walks, e.g., what do you want for Chanukah?
On all the serious conferences and family meetings we had about what we’re going to eat (turkey and turkey and turkey) and what we’re going to snack on (apple pie and pumpkin pie and coconut cream pie and chocolate cream pie)? On the serious question that all 10-year-olds ask every single day away from school: What are we doing today?
I gritted my teeth. This is your practice, I told myself. If you were important enough, you might say that Heaven intervened in this way so that you wouldn’t check a few newspapers every day, monitor emails, or worry about what will happen to the world if it doesn’t hear from you.
I did. I drove down to Maryland listening to a book-on-CD, Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which wowed me. Found myself waking up in the mornings without the rush for reading newspapers (Argentina fell to Saudi Arabia in the World Cup!), without the need to get up to speed, know everything that’s meant to be known, learn everything needed to be learned. And while I’d have liked to blog about what it is to be with family in Thanksgiving, the nuances, the expectations rising and falling like tides, dynamics way more dynamic than I knew, the complex complexity of love—I couldn’t. Not for lack of time or will or energy, but for lack of computer.
“Did you do it on purpose?” my grandson asked me when I told him I left my computer at home.
“I didn’t,” I replied, “but maybe God did.”
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