A Trick for Staying Present
Last Sunday was one of those perfect fall days in New York City that make you forget all the reasons this city drives you nuts and fall in love with it all over again. So, I left my phone at home, and nine-year-old Anton and I took off on a bike ride. We bump-bump-bumped over cobblestone streets and passed couples playing cards on picnic blankets. We stopped at a market for lemonade, then drank it on a bench facing the water.
It was pretty magical. But a weird thing kept happening.
Now and again, my hand would absentmindedly reach into my bag and fumble for my phone, before I’d remember it wasn’t there. I didn’t even want my phone, my hand was just accustomed to that periodic grab. How often do I pull out this thing? I began to wonder. And what am I missing when I do?
From our park bench, I looked around us: Anton’s blonde hair ruffled in the wind. A toddler stood, belly forward, watching her mom blow bubbles. Two guys rode by on their bikes, one without using his hands! A blue ferry chugged down the East River, and the sunshine made the waves sparkle.
My navigator tying his shoe.
I remembered a NYTimes interview with cartoonist Lynda Barry — have you read it? — in which she told this story:
“I have a friend who’s a writer. No matter what we’re doing or whom he’s around, he’s on his phone. We were sitting out in a parking lot, and there was a guy who came out who was in this full orc costume with a shield. I thought, I’m not going to say anything. Let’s see if my friend looks up. The guy passed right by him and — it was outside a hotel — tried to get through a revolving door. There’s all this bump ba bump ba bump, and if my friend would have looked up, he would have seen an orc go by! But he never looked up! Then later I told him, and he’s like, ‘That didn’t happen!’ It totally did happen! So something that closes you off to the world that you’re in — I mean, I could be on TikTok all night long. I keep deleting that app because I love it so much. But something that takes you out of your environment, you pay a high price. You miss the orc.”
This fall, as much as possible, I’m inspired to turn off my phone, put in a drawer, and just soak up the world. Maybe I’ll read poetry and books (this one looks great). I’ll admire my sweet children puttering around. And find the freckles on my leg that Alex says look like the Big Dipper. And maybe stare into space?
Because, honestly, seeing the world is just nice. “I do get a deep pleasure from looking,” says artist David Hockney. “I mean, I can look at a little puddle on a road in Yorkshire and just have the rain falling on it and think it’s marvelous.”
Don’t be these dudes!