Just over 13 months ago, on Easter weekend 2013, my wife and I began a new venture – we bought two iPhones. And ever since then life has not been the same.
For one thing, we ended up doing away with our land line and a phone number we have had for almost 20 years. Out of habit I still check for voice messages on the now absent digital message machine that used to sit near the front door; a flashing red light used to inform me if anyone had called. Old habits are hard to break.
Of course, all of these devices are a far cry from the ones present when I was a boy. The phone number I learned as a young boy in Chattanooga, Tennessee was MA4-2410. I still remember it (as you can tell). Many numbers since then have come and gone . . . but that one sticks in my memory. If you didn’t answer when someone called . . . well . . . they didn’t get to leave a message; all they heard was a repeated ring, ring, ring until they hung up their phone.
When I was a child we were fortunate to have a private line, and a black rotary phone with a thick cord that was connected to the wall; you could not disconnect it at will like the modern wall connection phone cords of today.
A great deal has changed.
Now we have no land line, only two cell phones. No one even dreamed in the 1950s of having a phone like the one I hold in my hand today. No dial tone when you prepare to make a call (that was the first thing you used to listen for before dialing a number). If you needed a phone number and could not get to a phone book there was directory assistance, but certainly not an internet connection where you could search online for numbers.
How we found websites back then I will never know! Hey . . . wait! There were no websites! Inconceivable, I know. But somehow, we muddled through.
Now I hold a tiny computer in my hand, or carry it in my pocket wherever I go. At a moment’s notice I can find road directions (and even have them read aloud to me by a really nice – albeit stern – sounding woman), find any phone number in the galaxy, play music with high fidelity (oh how that used to be a buzz word), pay bills, keep a calendar, read the news, and send a text message to anyone I want.
It is (to borrow a phrase used by my eldest daughter) the new normal.
In The Sacred Journey (1982) Frederick Buechner describes his father’s suicide one Saturday in the fall, and the BEFORE and AFTER reality that was born from that experience. He was just 10 years old. But it was at that point in his life that “time” really began for him. It is a story that he fittingly begins with the words “once below a time.”
A new normal.
A woman gives her life to raising her two children. They grow up, make her proud, then leave home to begin their own lives. And she is left to find her new place in the world, her new vocation (whether she wants it or not). She must adjust to the new normal.
A man retires from a long career in the business world. No longer does anyone come to him for wise business advice, or seek his counsel when making a big company decision. He was indispensable before, but . . . now . . . he is gardening in his yard. The biggest decision of the day is where to put the marigolds. And like it or not, he is in the new normal.
The fading pencil marks on the kitchen door jam, recording the incremental increase in the heights of two girls, remind the woman that she once was a successful mother. And the gold watch on the mantel pays homage to the business prowess and tenacity of the man. But no one seeks him out now.
The new normal.
I really like my new iPhone. It is truly amazing. Alvin Toffler warned me about it, though. I think we are beginning to see some of what he prophesied about years ago in Future Shock and The Third Wave. But the wave is so strong, I don’t know if we’ll be able to safely navigate out of its wake.
Life is made of countless transitions, changes and developments that have the power to undo us, or to embolden us.
We master a skill. Then, if we are not careful, it masters us.
We give our lives to a worthy cause. Then sometimes . . . that cause threatens to take possession of our lives.
There will always be a new normal awaiting us. Just around the bend.
A woman lives with a man for 40 years; he is sick for a few months then dies with cancer just after his 61st birthday. And she steps into the new normal.
A young couple goes into church work, wanting to be a help to those in need. Then their 9 year old is sexually abused at the church where they serve. They find themselves in the new normal.
A childless young couple, six years into marriage, begins the long and grueling process of adoption, then they are given a baby boy to raise. He becomes the highlight of their lives, and they cannot hardly imagine a time when he was not with them. The new normal.
Whether positive, or negative, the new normal demands its own brand of surrender from us. It brings with it both a blessing and a curse. And it is up to us to find the blessing and avoid the curse.
The iPhone 4s that we purchased last year have already been supplanted, of course. And I understand that the new up-and-coming iOS 8 operating system may not work in an iPhone 4. Well, I guess we will hold onto the “old” normal as long as we can.
So, how are you handling your own new normal? Is it your undoing? Or have you discovered the navigational secret that makes it possible for you to ride the waves rather than be engulfed by them?
But maybe you aren’t in an emotional position that allows you to ride the waves. That is so often the case, isn’t it? What then?
A former student of mine recently posted a video on Facebook. It showed expert surfers who were able to surf the pipeline of an ocean wave; impressive, to say the least. The video showed them encircled by the swirling torrents of water that make up the massive waves typically found in Hawaii. They were surfing inside the roll of the giant wave itself.
I think that sometimes navigating the new normals in our lives can be like that ocean pipeline; that is, if we search for it, there may be a way to stand in the very midst of the onslaught of the tidal wave and remain unharmed.
And eventually . . . if we are patient . . . calm, order, and peace return. The new normal.