This morning, I went to a children's program conducted by the weekday school program at my church. I'll tell you about that in a minute. But first, here's another story.
Missing the whole thing.
On December 1, 1990, Aprill and I boarded a bus in Orlando, Florida for the two-hour trip to Cape Canaveral to watch the launch of STS-35, the Space Shuttle Columbia. We were at a conference at Disney World, and the launch just happened to be while we were there.
It was a night launch. It had been postponed for months. But we didn't know that. We had two tickets on a party bus to see a night launch, and that was all that mattered to me. After growing up as a kid enamored by the Apollo program, and only 21 years after the mission that put human beings on the moon, to see anything launch into space was a dream come try for me. For it to be a night launch of the shuttle was over-the-top.
We arrived at our location, and the charter company got grills and coolers out of the bottom of the bus. They proceeded to grill burgers and hot dogs. Cold beer and wine flowed. It was a warm night for December, and we just had a blast eating and waiting on the launch. The countdown had been ongoing, set for a 1:20 am launch. With anticipation building and the countdown at 5 minutes, it paused. Several minutes passed. Disappointment started to set in. Then, it started again and got to 1 minute. Another pause. I wondered, would I get to see a launch after all? Almost as soon as I thought that, it restarted and one minute later, Columbia lifted off the launch pad, traveled about 1000 feet into the air where it pierced a low-altitude cloud bank. The top of the clouds began to light up and, as Columbia rose further, the clouds themselves got brighter and brighter until the shuttle appeared again—above the clouds!—in full, unobstructed view. The flames from the rockets were intensely bright. We saw the solid fuel boosters peel off and, as quickly as that, Columbia made its way downrange, out of sight and into space.
Watching a space shuttle launch was one of the most memorable events of my life up to that point. And at this point, 25+ years later, it still is.
Standing in front of me that night I noticed a guy with one of those old VHS cameras on a tripod. Remember the first ones that were about the size of a showbox? it was one of those. He waited patiently, endured the pauses and just as the countdown got to zero, he leaned into the viewfinder and started recording. As Columbia lifted off and created its magnificent exit from the earth's atmosphere (one of the most spectacular things I've ever witnessed), I glanced over once to notice him looking through the viewfinder and following the shuttle all the way in its path.
He missed the entire show. It was amazing. Had someone started shooting a July 4th fireworks display, it would not have been seen. As I watched the whole scene play out across the night sky in gargantuan size, he watched on a 1" black and white screen, all for the sake of watching it again in his living room, once, twice or maybe never.
Life only happens here and now, and then it's over.
Back to this morning. The program was awesome. It was 100 preschool kids on a stage singing songs and acting out a Bible lesson. Many were dressed in nicer, not-everyday clothes. They were animated and into the whole experience.
I helped lead some of the music, and had the best time looking at the kids singing and making all kinds of hand motions as part of the songs, noticing their excitement that people were watching, looking at the expressions on their faces. Then, at one point when I was not actively involved, I looked across at the 300 or so parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles gathered. I was astonished to see dozens looking straight up into the screen of a smartphone, recording the program instead of actually watching it. In so many ways, they were saying, oh, I'll just wait for the rerun.
I was sad for them. They missed it. They missed the entire show trying to capture it on a smartphone for the sake of watching it again in the living room, or posting it to social media, or emailing it to someone who could not (or would not) make the commitment to be there themselves. I remembered a story my friend Will told me about an Easter egg hunt he attended when his two sons were young. He said he looked around and every father around him was filming, and he was standing there, hands in pockets, smiling, soaking in the event and having a big time.
I'm astounded at just how much life people seem to be content living these days on the screen of their smartphones.
This is the first blog post I've written in about a month. It's not because I haven't had anything to say (or to write). It's because I've been involved in two activities I'll share more about later. Both of the exercises are focused on mindful living, or being part of the world of the here and the now.
I will write more in the days to come. But in the meantime, I'll write this as food for your thought: how much of your life are you living on the screen of your smartphone?
How much of life's grand and gargantuan show are you missing?