Friday, April 20, 2018

Cell Phone

My mom, kids, and I were recently talking about my insistence on having at least one cell phone with me all the time.  I think there was a slight suspicion that maybe I'm just addicted to the technology... and there is some truth to that, but the deeper truth we came to reflects who I have become by the path I have and continue to walk.

I have a phone with me all the time, essentially.  That is, at some inner level, driven by the memory of the times I haven't.  Those times have often been during some major level disasters when I needed to reach people I loved, but couldn't.  The two biggest examples are:

April 19, 1995 - I was a sophomore and kids those days definitely didn't have cell phones in their back pack. I might have had a bag phone in my car, but we couldn't have gone to the parking lot anyway.  The Alphra P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed.  168 of my fellow Oklahomans lost their lives and all of us who lived here that day were marked.  Realistically, I was in no danger. I went to a private school that year.  The only year of high school where my Dad wasn't just down the hall teaching.  I very much wanted to, irrationally, make sure my family was OK.  To tell them I was OK.  None of us were expected to be anywhere near that site, but still there is an urge in that moment to connect.  To confirm.  To reach out.

September 11, 2001 - I was newly married and living just outside Washington, D.C. with my husband.  I was in my first few weeks of law school, which is an intense time at the best of times.  We had no money to spare and cell phones were a luxury we couldn't yet afford.  I was in the library studying through the early morning.  I walked up to my first class and the halls were abuzz with rumor, questions, tears, worried faces.  They brought me up to speed and we attempted a contracts lesson from Professor Selmi.  It was impossible.  Many, many of my classmates were from NY/NJ and all of us were just a couple miles from the Pentagon.  They gave up on class and we were sent to the large lecture hall in the basement.  This was the "shelter in place" plan as no one really had good enough information to know if we would be safe enough to make our way home from downtown DC.  There was a payphone outside the lecture hall where I waited with my friends to try and reach our families, spouses, friends.  To tell them we were OK and hope we could get through.  To hope we would still be OK.  I eventually reached my Dad and sister's school and my husband.  Rumors in the outside world were flying of more planes, of the National Mall or the State Department on Fire.  Those locations were blocks from me.  Those rumors would eventually be clearly false, but at the time no one really knew. There was so much chaos. I walked across DC maybe a couple miles to Brent on the far side of Georgetown's campus.  On the way there, the streets were filled with cars, filled with people walking.  I remember people outside an embassy starring at the sky and muttering. I remember the HUGE plume of dark black smoke billowing from the Pentagon on the horizon. I remember homeless people directing traffic and homeless people with radios so we could hear some of the news as we walked. For the only time ever, my ID was checked at Georgetown's walls. I found Brent and we ultimately decided to walk out of the city, which was in the middle of a complete evacuation.  We walked to where our car was parked in Virginia and took 3.5 hours to drive a round about way home as the Pentagon was on our normal maybe 5 mile journey home.

We had no cable and, I think, dial up internet, so we watched grainy images and tried to figure out what happened.  The Pentagon still burned outside. When we went back to class a few days later there were armored vehicles in the streets and soldiers with automatic weapons.  It was a day/ experience that is seared into my memory.

I remember vividly how much stress/worry not being able to reach me caused me, but more especially all the people that cared about me.

These moments will never keep me from trying new things, taking risks, going new and possibly dangerous places.  But they will mean that I will always have with me a way to call home.  Recently, that meant getting international phone and data access to go to the safe, resort in the normally safe Bahamas... but then and every day, I cherish being able to reach people and say I'm OK and to hear that they are OK.

So, when you see that cell phone with me even on the very mundane daily life moments, consciously or not, I am remembering and choosing to walk forwards, but with a connection to my people in hand.

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