Divided attention

May 21, 2014 § 13 Comments

I had to attend a funeral last week, one of those where someone has died far too young under gut-wrenching circumstances, and the funeral was a just a bedraggled collection of broken, bewildered people with nothing but questions on their lips.

I sat in the pew in a chapel that seemed too bright and sunny for the sombreness of the occasion. My insides were twisted, gnarled at the pain in evidence all around me. I listened to heartbreaking eulogies, and flinched at the desolate wail of a seven-year-old who just wanted her daddy back. Until the pastor stood up to preach, and the bile rose in my throat and threatened to choke me.

He smiled beatifically, encouraging those present not to mourn, but to celebrate that the person we’d gathered to commemorate was in a better place. That he was whole, and happy and waiting for us to join him someday.

It angers me every time I hear this – I’ve been at funerals where people were practically dancing on the grave of the person who died in “celebration” that they were in a better place. And it angers me because funerals are not for the dead. They are for the living. They’re for the people left behind who have a person-shaped hole in their lives, a hole no-one will ever be able to fill.

We need to be a little selfish at funerals. We need to be comforted. To be held. To be rocked and cossetted and heard. Deep down inside most of us know that we’ll be okay, that things will work out in the end, but on that day we need to grieve, to lament, to feel really sorry for ourselves. We don’t care that the person who’s died may or may not be in a better place. We just want them back.

And so, as he preached, I seethed in my seat, wanting desperately to administer a sharp slap to his simpering face on behalf of my friends, who cried silently in the front row.

And then he took my anger to a whole new level. Halfway through the sermon he reached into his pocket, pausing mid-sentence to pull out his cellphone and check his messages. He placed it on the lectern where he could keep an eye on it, poking at it from time to time. And, having pronounced the blessing, he stood on the podium, tapping on the screen to answer his messages while a family member ran through a list of thank yous.

It took every ounce of self-restraint I possess not to stand up in my seat and yell at him to put his f*cking phone away. Every ounce. What on earth is wrong with people? How has it come to this?

That man’s complete lack of respect for the bereaved, for the situation, for his office as a minister, gave me pause. It made me think about how tethered I am to my smartphone. It made me worry anew about society as a whole, myself included. Do we really not know how to be out in the world without staring at our phones, answering messages, taking pictures, Instagramming, tweeting, or posting to Facebook? Do we even remember how to make eye contact? How to experience something without putting a smartphone inbetween us and it?

I know someone who leaves his phone at home or in the car while if he’s having a cup of coffee with you, or grabbing a bite to eat. While he’s with you, he’s unavailable to everyone else, and focused on you – only you.

That’s something we can all learn from. That’s something I’m trying to remember. That I don’t have to be instantly available to others simply because technology makes it possible. That my smartphone is for my convenience, not yours. That nine times out of ten, a response is not required immediately. And that it’s far more important to be fully present when I’m with others and to give them my undivided attention.

I haven’t quite got it right, but I’m trying. So if you need to get hold of me, do leave a message. I’ll get back to you.



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