“Invisibly, almost without notice, we are losing ourselves” (see yesterday’s post) brought to mind the following piece written in 2007.
Do you ever feel invisible? Ever wonder whether you’re really there? I do. People walk by on the street or in the mall…it’s like I’m not there. People walk by like ghosts talking to ghosts. They don’t see me. They’re somewhere else, not really there. They walk like people; they talk like people; they look like people. But their eyes and ears are somewhere else . . . in some far off place. Their heads down, reading or writing a text or staring into space, babbling to someone who’s not there. I’ve become invisible.
I have the same experience driving to and from work. Drivers cut in front of me or run up behind me. They laugh and smile and wildly gesture, but there’s no one else in the car! When their driving puts me in jeopardy, I honk. They just keep talking. They don’t look and they don’t hear anything but the voice on the other end of the cell phone. Even my Toyota’s invisible; it’s become a non-material world.
It’s nothing new really. Western spirituality has always been dualistic. It says that we have a body and we have a soul – the physical and the spiritual. We have these bodies for a while, and then we die, but we don’t really die; we just escape these bodies, like birds set free from our cages. This dualistic understanding of life made its way from classical Greek philosophy into the writings of St. Paul as the war between “the flesh” and the spirit. “I’ll fly away,” often sung at funerals, expresses the underlying philosophy. “When the shadows of this life have gone, I’ll fly away Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly. I’ll fly away.” The rudeness on the highways, in the malls, coffee shops and restaurants — and even in our homes — is the latest expression of this deprecation of bodily existence.
We don’t see each other anymore. The voice on the other end of the phone is more important than the person in front of me, and the ones I cannot see or hear or receive a text from are unreal…in Iraq, Afghanistan, and anywhere else I decide to hang up and nuke their worlds into the permanent invisibility of nonexistence or the fires of hell.
I sit quietly at the airport gate, waiting for my flight. Used to be people would at least acknowledge one another’s existence – the bare fact that you were really there and not somewhere else or nowhere – but now they’re on their phones, babbling away as though the room were empty except for them. Because, I suppose, we’re ancient Greeks with head sets, cell phones, and iPads, seduced by the old idea that we are meant for non-embodied existence. It’s just me and my invisible world, and you with yours, a rude collection of loud mouths with headsets, alone in the crowd, bereft of the silent pauses between the noises that make us anxious.
Touch is a basic need. My dog knows it. I know it. Hearing and speaking are important. But the most important communication comes by touch. An animal that goes untouched becomes mad as a March hare. So do we.
In this world of disembodied spirits, we crave the gift of touch. But to touch and be touched is a vulnerable thing. It reminds us of our embodied selves, our mortal selves, our dependent and interdependent selves. The non-material world is safer. Unlike the body, the worlds in our head are invulnerable.
In my faith tradition, the Feast of Pentecost celebrates the day the babbling stopped, the day the Spirit shifted the crowd’s eyes and ears out of the lonely silos of self-absorption and self-deception — away from their iPhones, iPads, and headsets.
The sound of a mighty wind was so profound, so inescapable and unmistakable, that the company of lonely strangers stopped babbling around the phone tower and noticed the other people around them.
— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, Minnesota, Jan. 9, 2019