Less Connected

I was an early adopter of email. I was active in an email network nearly 30 years ago, back in the days when we used a 300 baud telephone modem. I used to do all of my email work off line. I would have the computer upload the messages I had written during the day and download any new messages received at night while I slept. The process was slow. This was before the term “instant messaging” had emerged. Over the years I have had a number of different email accounts and have switched from paid servers to ones that are free. I still pay for Internet services and have email accounts that are paid, but I also have a “free” gmail account.

About a week ago I discovered that I was not able to receive email on my home account. This is an uncommon occurrence, and when it happens I usually just wait an hour or so and services resume. However, the services did not return. I checked passwords, just to make sure and checked with my wife to see if her account was operational. It was not. The usual route around such a problem is to go online through the web site of the service provider. That provider offers web mail services, so I can access my email that way. However, the web site of the provider won’t load on our computers either. I’m suspicious of a major problem with the carrier, but I am traveling in Japan and I don’t want to go through the hassle and expense of trying a phone call to the carrier. I’ve decided to wait until we get home to resolve the problem.

Most of my important email comes through church accounts and through other email accounts, so we are not out of touch with the world. However, there are correspondents, including personal friends, who primarily use my home account and I’m used to checkin it daily. Along with the spam and junk mail, that account sees over a hundred messages a day and a delay of a week or more means that there will be hundreds and hundreds of messages that have to be sorted when I finally make contact.

That mountain of messages will have to wait until we get settled, as our return to the United States will be followed by a 1300 mile road trip. Getting home and back into the swing of work will be a major effort. Adding the hassle of sorting out the email wasn’t in my plans, but when one travels, one learns to adapt.

I have to admit that there is a bit of joy in being less connected. I’m not following all of the things that are going on with a couple of nonprofits where I serve. They have to get along without me in a similar fashion to what would have happened years ago when people who made international trips were out of touch for a while. It hasn’t been that long when international travel didn’t involve cell phones and email and other instant communications. My attention has been our our daughter and grandson during this trip and having less email to deal with is a distinct joy, even though I know that there will be some work involved in sorting things out when I return.

I am sure that there are other things going on at home of which I am either unaware or to which I am less connected. A pilgrimage involves leaving one’s home behind, trusting others with leadership in your absence, and focusing on the journey. Later, after the journey is complete, there is a process of reconnection. This pilgrimage results in spiritual growth for the traveler and for those who stay at home. The absence is part of the development of a new level of relationship. People of faith have been taking pilgrimages for the purpose of spiritual growth for millennia. The process of constant connection has changed the nature of pilgrimage in our time. There is less leaving behind the day to day and more taking it with the traveler. It would be expensive, but possible for us to have our cell phones turned on every day of our trip. That wouldn’t solve the glitch in our email system, but it would provide access to a number of messages that we are not receiving. It also would be a distraction from the things we are doing here.

In recent years I have been wrestling with achieving a balance between being available and being able to focus on the matter at hand. The distinction between working and leisure is blurred when a cell phone makes you constantly available. I have had to train people to use the voice mail system because I do not interrupt a conversation to answer my phone. I have plenty of meetings and hospital calls and funeral planning sessions and other parts of my work life that mean that phone calls must wait. I say to people, “I’m not answering my phone while I am talking to you, so you have got to be prepared to leave me a message when I am taking to others.” Even so, I check phone messages frequently and respond in a timely fashion. It is part of serving others. There is an expectation that we stay in touch.

A number of years ago, someone was hurt and offended that I didn’t respond to an email message when I was on sabbatical. I was aware of the message and I knew that it was being appropriately handled by other members of the church staff, so I didn’t make a personal response. After I returned from the sabbatical trip, I had to invest a significant amount of time and energy into healing the relationship with that person. It would have taken less time and effort to have responded to the message in the middle of the trip. I believed, however, that the separation was part of the learning of the trip. So I worry about missed messages with this current email issue.

There are, however, things that I cannot control and issues that I cannot solve long distance. There are things that have to wait. It appears that this particular issue is one of those things. I have to lay aside my frustration and be present in the moment. And that, my friends, is not a bad thing.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!