I’m writing to you from the past. I’ve been here for seven days, living in the technological equivalent of 1993—no email, no text messaging, no mobile phone, no social media, no Netflix. The list goes on and on.
Before I go back to the future, I want to tell you about the three things I discovered here, and the three people who showed them to me:
a young boy whose guitar was out of tune,
a young woman who fell from six feet up and landed head first on a concrete floor,
and a young girl who ran crying from a stage.
A Young Boy Playing
My son’s first Christmas concert with his group guitar ensemble and I couldn’t record it—in 1993, there wasn’t a video camera in every pocket. So, for the first time in six guitar recitals, I watched him take the stage without an LCD screen separating us. True high definition. I felt more nervous than usual. I hoped it would go perfectly.
His guitar was out of tune and, in real life and full size, I could actually see the color rising in his cheeks and the furtive glances at his teacher between notes. When you aren’t managing the zoom and focus and preoccupied with trying to keep him in the middle of the screen—when you aren’t controlling something all the time—you are made fully available to the messy moment.
And you feel powerless.
The first thing I discovered in 1993 is the place of powerlessness in us is also the place of love.
Because when you don’t have anything for your hands to reach for, all that’s left is for your heart to reach out. Is it possible love has hands we can’t see? Because in his blushing moment I felt something in me bridge the space between us, something almost tangible holding him up and holding him together, whispering to him “You are beautiful son; you are okay, no matter what notes you play and regardless of who applauds and who doesn’t.”
When we find the place in us that doesn’t always know what to do, we have discovered the center of ourselves, and the center is love.
A Young Woman Falling
She was doing chin-ups on a machine at the gym when her ankles became tangled and she plummeted headfirst to the concrete floor six feet below. The paramedics were called and we all stood around in a circle, staring at her limp and lifeless body. Utterly powerless.
When the paramedics arrived, the crowd scattered. In 2013, I would have joined them. But I was in 1993, so I had no choice but to exist a little longer in the powerless moment.
The second thing I discovered in 1993 is the place of powerlessness in us is also the place of love.
As I watched the scene unfold, I realized this unconscious woman was a symbol for all of us: we’re all busy pulling ourselves up in life, trying to become stronger and more powerful, but all of us are just one tangled ankle away from everything changing. I felt a storm brewing behind my eyes, because when you pay attention long enough you realize:
the stranger is really you,
we’re all fragile, broken, and living lives that turn on a dime,
the world is fully of hierarchies and they’re all a fiction,
life is really just one level playing field and we’re all on it together,
and you realize the powerlessness of love is the only thing with the power to bind us together.
A Young Girl Running
Back at my son’s Christmas concert, the teachers have pulled three harps onto the stage. But one harp stands empty. A murmur of confusion is running through the crowd when the third harpist slowly creeps from the wings. She’s trembling from head to toe as she walks toward the harp and then right past it, running from the stage, tears streaking her face.
A teacher sits in for her and the three harps play their carol.
The urge to reach for my phone is at its peak. Distractions are like a drug in the awkward, helpless, powerless nooks and crannies of life. But with no phone, instead I look around at the faces in the crowd and I can see hearts breaking throughout the auditorium.
The third thing I discovered in 1993 is the place of powerlessness in us is also the place of love.
The song ends and the crowd claps politely, but in the midst of the applause, the young lady re-takes the stage and sits at her harp and it’s clear she’s asking for one more chance and the applause begins to swell and an auditorium full of people hold her up with their clapping hands.
The young girl wipes her slippery hands on her Christmas dress and the trio begins to play. And the many are made one and we all feel like we’re up on that stage with her because deep down in the center of our hearts, we’re all just hoping for one more chance to play the song we hear inside of us.
The Powerless Place
We can’t really go back in time, but we can always go deeper into this time, and we can always go deeper into ourselves.
When we do, I think we discover inside of us a place of utter powerlessness. It can be a painful place, but it is always a beautiful place as well, because it’s where our love is most fierce, unbounded, not limited to family and friends but powerful enough to embrace all of humanity.
Every age has had its distractions—I’m guessing the discovery of fire was like an iPhone for cave men. But every age has also had the opportunity to discover the quiet center beneath the noisy surface of life. And every age has the chance to discover there a secret too good to be true:
The connection and belonging we so deeply desire is already present. We don’t find ways to become connected, we discover we already are connected. Our becoming is really a dawning awareness of that which we already are.
My son’s guitar teacher tuned his guitar between numbers and he nailed his solo in the next song. The young woman awoke on the concrete floor, and by the time she left the gym on a stretcher, she was smiling and talking with the paramedics. And the young girl played her harp beautifully, and when she stood up and bowed, the applauding crowd didn’t feel like three hundred strangers, it felt like a singular humanity.
A powerless humanity. Knit together by a love bigger than any of us.
Question: Did you disconnect in any way this holiday season? I’d love to hear about your experience! You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Note: One brave reader chose to undertake this time travel experiment and to write about it with me. Click here to read what Emily Anton has to say about 1993 and the joy she found there.
Next Post: On January 8, ”Why One Little Question is the Best Resolution for a New Year”
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