Phoneless in Seattle

Actually, I became phone-less in Anacortes, WA. We were at the fuel dock, refilling the boat’s tank with diesel as the last step of our amazing family boating holiday. I saw the fuel dock attendant tie down our stern line and move into position to grab our bow line. Although a gusty wind was blowing us off the dock, I was confident that my husband in the pilot house and the attendant on the dock could handle things. My focus was on packing up the galley.


Until, that is, I noticed that the stern line was slipping. I raced for the stern and jumped onto the dock, bending down to the cleat to tie the stern line more securely. At that point, as I crouched down and leaned over, I watched my phone somersault out of my shirt pocket and gently rock in the water before gracefully sinking out of sight. 


I almost never carry my phone with me. One of my husband’s pet peeves is that I frequently don’t know where my phone is. My usual outfits of skirts and tops don’t come with pockets and when I move from room to room my phone is often left behind. This day, however, I had donned a boat shirt when the cool breeze kicked up and popped my phone into the pocket. It was a fateful decision. 

We had an amazing few weeks together in the coastal waters of British Columbia. The enchanting combination of emerald islands and azure water, vistas of trees, bright skies and beckoning mountains always sings to our souls. A few of our children joined us and we even had the opportunity to introduce our oldest grandson to the nautical life. The weather was magnificent, the people friendly and welcoming and the challenge of winds, currents and tides presented a welcome break from life’s usual  daily concerns. 


Aside from the expected boat problems (How can our water tank be dry when it was half full last night? Why are the batteries not holding a charge?) the trip was life-restoring but uneventful. Now, after hundreds of miles of navigation, only a hundred feet from our home dock, Poseidon claimed my phone.

My husband immediately reassured me that we would replace it and I quickly made an internal calculation that we and our family were healthy and losing a cell phone doesn’t come close to ranking on the catastrophe meter. But… I still felt not only a pang of sadness at the financial and time waste but I also felt incomplete. I have never smoked, but I imagine that someone used to a cigarette in his hands might feel the same strangeness once it was no longer there. While I easily put aside my phone every Shabbat, I missed its presence all of that Monday. When I went to get our rental car and couldn’t phone to tell my husband that I was back…when my husband ran into a store and I couldn’t play Words with Friends while I waited…when I could hear the family What’s App exploding on my husband’s phone with messages that I couldn’t read–I felt incomplete.  


Picking up a new phone the next day, I realized that the young sales associate never knew days of being disconnected. When I was a child, I assumed that  once I rode off on my bicycle with friends our parents had no way of reaching us. When my mother went to the store, if I forgot to tell her that I had finished the peanut butter, it would have to wait for the next trip. As a newlywed, I never expected a message telling me that my husband was five minutes away; when he walked in the door was when I knew where he was. Yet, in a few short years, I have become so accustomed to being constantly in touch that I was unsettled at losing that contact. Sitting with empty hands looking around a parking lot or having to remember what exit I needed rather than being guided by a disembodied voice directing me was downright weird. 


I don’t have any profound statement with which to end this Musing. Life changes and I’ve become as used to having a phone appendage as my grandparents became accustomed to having indoor plumbing. Each wondrous new advance rapidly becomes a required standard. Still, while I’m not happy about losing my cell phone, it did remind me that the line between a helpful device and a crutch is remarkably fine.

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6 thoughts on “Phoneless in Seattle”

  1. Well, if cell phones lead to homeschooling, I’m all in favor! You are right that they allow us to keep in touch when necessary but the down side is that more things become necessary than they used to be. There’s less need for kids (or adults) to solve problems themselves when someone can be reached so quickly to step in and take charge. Like all things, there is the good and the bad.

  2. I’ve had to make an effort to practice keeping my phone on so that people can actually contact me. But when my young children were out of reach, you bet I loved that electronic leash! It has eased anxiety at one end or the other, and already served to make several situations that suddenly came up turn out for the better.
    The only reason I ever got a cell in the beginning was because every time I went out for a day trip, the school would call with some urgent message or other. Never happened when I was home for the day. I would come home and find loads of messages on the home phone over an injury or illness. I became a little superstitious and got a cell phone so I could react much more quickly when these events came up. But something else happened: the messages became more like authoritative shaming on my kids: once they actually lost my young child. They did a few other things to my kids. Their explanations and phone calls were less about meeting the needs of the child and more about covering their own hides. My eyes were opened. And we started schooling at home.

  3. Shannon, I tip my hat to you. You are so right about not interacting. I do try not to be on my phone when in line or around other people. Random interactions can be very rewarding. Thanks for the tip about the Life Proof and Aqua Buddy.

  4. Oh Mrs. L! I cheer for your current predicament…it is that electronic silence that is so enriching to the soul & mind. Yes, it’ll be a few days to get used to not having that electronic shrieking toddler begging for your attention.
    Oddly enough, I am a wireless engineer which is high-falootin’ techie talk for “cell site Mommy.” I tell the tower it is a cell tower with software instruction and rules for transmission/receiver behaviour. I rarely carry my mobile, rarely text, never use GPS yet rarely get lost (MAPS=AWESOME,) if the message was important now- its importance will remain 20 minutes later when I stop the car to check it. Most people in my field have the same ‘like/indifferent’ relationship with our phones.
    The instant gratification the smartphone gives, it takes an equal measure of peace, interpersonal interaction and privacy. We become neurotic, obsessively checking- even to just appear comfortable while waiting around. In the olden days (10 years ago)we might strike up a conversation with strangers in a waiting room, or read a magazine. Now we disconnect from our fellow man with an electronic pacifier that always is ready to interact and you can put away without so much as a by your leave. We are left lonelier, a bit rude, and unable to navigate our way out of a paper sack.
    So I say to you Mrs. L. until you replace your errant device- enjoy the silence, the world around you and the company of strangers! Oh- and get a LifeProof or AquaBuddy phone case- they float.

  5. Your timing for me is once again spot on. At the moment I am packing for a long journey and must leave my computer behind. The computer for so many of us has become a lifeline, an oft frightening prospect when we must leave it behind. Yet whenever life strips us machine-less and reduces us to a more primitive state, it can constitute a kind of revelation. We can rediscover things about ourselves, pluck, adaptability, self-reliance; about the world, and about God. Thanks so much for your Musing!

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