Two weeks ago, I lived without my phone. I was on a quick trip. As the plane descended into Canada, AT&T was kind enough to inform me how much each call, text and inch of data was going to cost me in this part of the world. I tucked my phone away until I returned to the US.

Without my phone and her handy apps, without Google Maps to tell me where to go, I was free to get lost. In the October of Ottawa I felt my face slapped by the chapping winds, I smelled the at once familiar and foreign scent of city life; auto exhaust and freshly baked bread and coffee. I saw the beauty of three colours of cauliflower, purple, orange and green, for sale for a dollar, fresh from the farmer who grew it. I watched busy people rushing to work and tourists walking entirely too slowly. I heard languages–French, Spanish, English and so many others that I couldn’t identify. I nodded at the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were set up on the street, smiling and talking to each other about their purification rituals. I saw the details of the Parliament Buildings and wondered about the brick layers who built the building. Who were they? What did they do on their days off? Do their descendants come and admire, decades, centuries later, their handiwork? I heard the clicking of my feet against the cement road and felt the rhythm of my steps. Returning home, I met two Georgia men. We talked about whiskey and baseball and the power of a good night of sleep. On the flight itself, I met a physical therapist from Canada who was traveling to volunteer for a week of service. I learned more about Canadian politics and living in our 2 hour conversation than a lifetime of Wikipedia articles could have given me.

Photographer Eric Pickersgill has a series of photos called Removed. By removing the phones from his photos, we see how tethered we have become to our phones. His photos highlight the power they have to remove us from our real life, allowing us to sink into the oblivion of work, distraction, busyness and other. Of course, it’s not just technology that tethers us. We’re tethered by our idols–those things we think will bring us happiness, joy, escape. And sometimes they do, but sometimes they just keep us from being present.

The magic of being untethered didn’t last long. I touched down four days later in Atlanta and grabbed my phone. I texted my beloved, I’m on my way home and made my way through the terminal. I have a friend who calls me at least once a week from Lake Shore Drive as she sits in traffic on her daily commute. I love the connection that the phone gives us. I am grateful for Google Maps when I am lost, or more often these days, looking for a way to dodge Atlanta traffic. Occasionally I even use my phone for work, sending out an urgent email. Most days, I wouldn’t go back to the dumb phone or even, gasp, those days before cell phones.

And yet, there is something lost in our busyness and the myth of our cyber connectedness. At just a month away, the season of Advent is close. I’m thinking about the invitation Advent will bring anew, an invitation to awareness, repentance, watching and waiting. The invitation to stop. I’m wondering how, now safely at home in my regular life, I can again untether myself so that I can keep awake, watching for the promise of what is to come. I’m wondering how I will stop so that I can begin again.

Airplanes and All Saints


It was grey and overcast, the light rain noticeable, but not yet enough to send us back inside. My five-year-old companion and I stood next to the runway and watched as small planes took off and landed. One landed and drove by where we were standing. The pilot and passengers waved right at us. We both squealed with delight. The rain grew more insistent and the wind began to pick up, so we headed in. I stopped and looked back at the empty runway.

My earliest memories include driving in our blue Ford LTD to the airport to pick up my sister for a summer or Christmas visit. In those days we could meet her at the gate. The arrivals were always fun–we would stop for hamburgers and milkshakes, vanilla with whipped cream and a cherry on top. I would fall asleep while she told my parents about school and books and music. But when she would go, that was a different drive. Back then, we could walk on the plane with her, watch her get fastened safely into her seat belt. Papa always brought a pack of gum, he’d give it to her before she left so her ears wouldn’t hurt. We would leave her, and the airport with its nighttime lights and zooming planes. Filling up the car with gas, Papa would run into the store to pay and emerge with a bag of salted peanuts so I could have the same thing she was eating on the plane. I cried the whole way home.

Many years and marriages later, my brother began to fly. Small planes, up in the air, both terrifying and exciting my father. He was always happiest when we had found joy and for my brother, joy is often found in the air.

Today, All Saints’ Day, I baptized two new lives and read the names of so many beloved dead, including my father’s. I looked out at the grey runway with planes coming and going, taking people to and from each other. It is the way we humans live. We are always coming and going from each other. Sometimes the arrivals are as dramatic and hopeful as birth, and departures as final and sorrowful as death, but often we are coming and going in how we are with the living. Sometimes fierce, sometime kind–hope and goodness, hurt and anger, messy humans making their ways. Yet even in the grey and rain, there are five-year-olds waving at us along the way, who delight in our safe journey.