When my husband and I were first married, he was the rabbi of a dynamic synagogue. Most of the congregants were young, single and new at developing a relationship with God. They walked out of my husband’s Torah classes with heads full of exciting and thought-provoking ideas. In the years leading up to our marriage, a few of his students had gotten in the habit, which my husband encouraged, of calling him at any time of the day or night when they found themselves grappling with questions sparked by the class or by their fledgling foray into the faith of their fathers.
These calls came in at all hours. During the early months of our marriage (which took place when phones were still attached to walls) my husband used to leap to answer the phone lest one of our congregants might have to wait for his attention. This included mealtime and after we had turned off for the night. As a young bride, my attitude differed from my husband’s. After some calm discussion, which admittedly may have been punctuated with a few tears, my bridegroom came to understand that he was no longer immediately available to his students at all times.
Years later, when we retired from the synagogue rabbinate and moved to the Northwest, the pattern of not leaping to answer the phone with Pavlovian dispatch was well established. Until that is, mobile phones began to accompany my husband wherever he went. Ditto for Blackberries and other electronic devices that seemed to be grafted to his body. Now the concern was less with congregants and more with one of our children who was away from home. Any suggestion that only seldom did a child far from home need urgent attention placed me in the position of being a heartless mother. Children who were present at our table found themselves ignored as vital concerns from their far-away siblings such as, “I’m writing a thank-you note. What’s the state abbreviation for Missouri?” took precedence. My darling husband caught up with the distant child while those of us at the table remained silent. Discussions take place regularly in our home as to whether modern electronics are devices that serve us or whether we are servants at their beck and call. With a fair number of married years under our belt, there are fewer tears on my part but the exchanges are nonetheless quite passionate.
All of which leads up to a gift my husband recently presented to me. To his intense annoyance, I dislike carrying a cell phone and rarely check messages. His conclusion was that I had an aversion to my specific phone model and so he gave me a Blackberry, confident that I would fall in love. It can do so much! Not only is it a phone, but it can access my email, take videos and I can even leave myself voice messages with it. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that it can bake an apple pie if properly programmed. Accompanying this wondrous machine is a 449 page user’s guide. 449 pages!!!!! Now my husband, like many men, never reads instruction manuals. I do, which is probably why he thought I would appreciate this encyclopedic tome. Quite frankly, if I had time to read 449 pages I would rather re-read Gone With the Wind.
I have always taught my children to express gratitude for gifts whether or not they appreciate the individual item. They were to focus on the thought behind the gift and the relationship with the giver. In keeping with that idea, I am grateful for my new Blackberry while equally convinced that I seek loving relationships with individuals, not machines.