I received a phone call one night and gazed questioningly at the phone screen, which displayed a name I hadn’t seen or heard for at least a decade.
It turns out Alex was renouncing most forms of texting and email for a period of time, and reaching out to people he hadn’t connected with in a while. To hear their voices, and to have real conversations.
He explained that he had undergone heart surgery recently. Though some time has passed since the surgeries, some complications have resurfaced and he’s been visiting the hospital often since then. He once attempted to track his exercise for 100 days as part of his recovery. People wrote and responded with similar words over and over again via Facebook and text message. He received many “Oh you’re so brave, get well soon!” responses – which, while well-meaning, didn’t seem to offer enough avenues to really reconnect. He wanted to know where life was taking me, what I was up to, and for me to ask the same of him.
There are times when technology distances us rather than fulfilling its (arguable) original purpose – to create connection, whether in business or personal context. Jonathan Safran Foer’s essay in the New York Times is still one of my favorite reflections on this topic. I battle internally with this idea, because ever since computers appeared in our home I have been curious about and enamored by almost all aspects of technology. In my daily life, I strive to help myself and others understand how technology can serve as an enhancement to our relationships, rather than a hindrance.
Alex asked me my address later, and sent me a postcard from his travels.
I sat down in my chair, touched to have received a physical postcard. I marveled at the expression on the children’s faces. It brought back memories of learning sevillanas and the beginning movements of flamenco during the heat of summer when I lived in Granada. The enunciation of the music through our floral hand movements, the emotion in our faces.
The message written on the back admitted that he didn’t know if I still dance or not. But that if I do, he hopes I allow the dance to contain as much feeling as is shown here.
I worry that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts.
Alex’s heart, albeit physically strained and weary, still speaks loudly and lovingly through the ways he has touched me from across the continent. He still writes about facing death daily, and strives to make the most of each moment. He is an avid user of social media to talk about it all, and I admire the bridges he’s built between that and making old-fashioned contact with friends.
As our generation gets older, this reconciliation between two different worlds of connection and communication becomes more important to me. I am lucky enough to have time to tread sweetly on the final days of my second decade – taking this time offline to gather myself and reflect. One of my favorite people has reassured me that the next one will be the best of my life so far. Still, I purposefully stretch out the days under a different kind of sunlight. I move slowly, with a deliberate rhythm (tap tap tap, like the castanets) – and still the decade gets ever shorter. In watching or dancing flamenco you learn to release, to carry the audience and yourself through the rhythmic drumming that often mimics the heart. There was no part of us pent up, unexpressed, to be taken home to ferment.
We only get this one chance, we only get this one heart. “Be brave,” I encourage our little hearts. Don’t be so afraid to talk to someone, no matter the medium – like, really talk. Shed fear. Dance harder. Feel more, and speak now.