I had the wonderful opportunity to spend the entire day with my youngest daughter on Saturday. Since the separation, the physical distance between us has been a real barrier. When we do see each other, it tends to be rushed because of time constraints. Saturday, we had 2 hours in the car and a day of binge-watching Netflix ahead of us.
I love riding in the car with the kids, one at a time or all at once. I have a ritual with each one. With my oldest, it’s radio off and let’s talk. With my second oldest it’s sports talk and name the car. With my youngest son, it’s all music, comparing Spotify playlists and playing for each other our favorite new artists. With my youngest, we only have one ritual. It’s called put the damn phone down. She kills me with how she cannot pull herself away from the endless snapchats, facetimes, and texts. She doesn’t mean to be rude, she’s just addicted. She is one of the millions I suppose. I am probably being selfish, I want as much quality time with her as I can get, and I want her to see what I see.
The ride to my place in NH from hers is an increasingly scenic one. As the odometer increases the number of houses dwindles. Four-lane highways become 2 lane roads. Imported, high-end cars are soon outnumbered by domestically produced vehicles. I can actually feel the stress wash off my body as I reach the halfway point of the 100-mile commute. At mile 57 comes my favorite part. There is a long stretch of climbing road, the type that has a slow lane for trucks and heavy equipment. Once the peak of this stretch is reached and you top the hill you are immediately hit with a vast, panoramic view of the White Mountains. You can see for 50 miles on a clear day from that spot. Layer after layer of hills, snowcapped in spots, fading in clarity as you strain to see the end of it. It takes my breath away every time. As can be expected, I prepped her ahead of time that I wanted her to put the phone down when we reached it because it diminishes fast once you are down the hill. My daughter took a look, said “nice” and went back to her phone.
It’s not her fault, her generation was raised on screens. All of my kids are like that. My mother with her new dating app is too. Smartphones and staying inside are here to stay whether I like it or not. That’s extraordinarily difficult for me because I love the outdoors. One of my favorite movie scenes is from the Great Outdoors with John Candy and Dan Aykroyd. They are in Canada on vacation, sitting on a deck overlooking a lake. Dan Aykroyd goes off on a tear about what he sees when he looks out. Future Industrialization, urban sprawl, forestry, medical waste dumps. John Candy’s character, when asked what he sees, says “I just see trees.” Then he is summarily insulted for being short-sighted and simple. Sorry to say, but that’s me, I just see trees.
I want my kids to see trees. I want them to appreciate the power and beauty of nature. I want them to see crashing waves during hurricanes, starlit nights and sunsets, windy days and mountain views as I do; as a reminder of just how small we really are. To recognize the beauty, power, age and resilience of the tall mountain, the rushing river and the mighty Oak is to recognize our relative size and overall significance. No man is a match for the tide, despite his wealth, power and Instagram followers. It is a call to humility, a damper of ego and hubris, a wake-up call to recognize your smallness.
My children continue to marvel, and I suspect privately mock my newfound Spirituality. That’s fine with me, I was a pretty vocal agnostic for a long time so I have it coming. When I told them about my change of heart, it was a result of deciding between being honest, or not sharing something valuable for fear of being accused of flip-flopping. They are cautiously happy for me while still confused about my change of heart. I could explain it so easily if they let me.
Walk outdoors and look up. That’s all. Look to the top of the treeline, gaze up from the base of a mountain, stare at the stars on a cold winter night and you will see how small, not insignificant just small, we really are. When I did this, I offered myself up as a role player, a piece in the great puzzle. I made myself smaller so that my life could be bigger. I found the power to let down my guard and ask for help and guidance.
Sure, I like screens. I’m working on one now. They serve their purpose. But given the choice…I still just see trees.