I woke up the other morning and my phone was broken. It’s an older iPhone, and the glass had a spiderweb of cracks centered on one corner and extending across its face.
I don’t know how it happened; when I went to sleep, it was safely on the night table and when I woke up it was face-down on the floor and broken, looking like maybe someone had stepped on it. We’re blaming the dog.
So what did I do when I realized the marks on the glass were actually cracks and not just some weird pattern of dust from the floor (I was still half asleep …). I pressed the button to bring the phone to life, to see if it still worked. It did, even the touch screen, so I proceeded to check my emails, take a turn in a Scrabble game and see what my friends were up to on Facebook, all before getting out of bed.
I can live with the broken glass on my phone until I can get it fixed, as long as the phone still works.
Later the same day, Teresa and I were headed down the winding back stairs, on our way to take the dog outside. Teresa’s toy cell phone (a flip model) hung from her wrist on a strap. As we made our way down the stairs, me offering encouragement with each step, her hanging on to the railing and proceeding slowly, she stopped and opened the phone to make it ring, then held it up to her face. “Hello?”
The dog was waiting not-so-patiently at the bottom of the stairs by the back door, and I tried to hurry her along. “Come on,” I said. “Keep going. We’re almost there.”
She looked at me without moving the phone, then held up one finger towards me, making the universal sign of parents on the phone everywhere, as if to say, “Give me just one more minute.”
I gave her maybe a few more seconds. I’m pretty sure she knows that I know that she knows she’s not really talking to anyone; she just needed a minute to relax and used the phone to get it. When I asked her again to keep going because the dog really needed to go outside, she put down the phone, held out her arms and said, “Up please.”
So I picked her up and carried her the rest of the way downstairs, a good result for Teresa of clearly communicating what she wanted. But I still thought about her pause to take a phone call on the stairs: Is that what it looks like to her, when I stop what I’m doing to answer a call or to send a text? Just taking a break from her?
I don’t think so, at least not always. She talks to her dad and a few other people on my phone, so she knows there are real people at the other end. Still, that one moment reminded me to be more mindful of the way I use my phone, and what messages I am communicating.
In the last verse of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Somehow, I think that means he wouldn’t be distracted by a phone call.
Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at email@example.com.