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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Absentee

Around the end of last year, a few things fell into place that gave us the opportunity to take a vacation this year. For us, this was a Really Big Deal. In our entire marriage, we have never had the means or opportunity to take a trip by ourselves. The last time that we traveled as just us was when we went to Las Vegas to get married. We were filled with a combination of excitement and disbelief that we would have a chance to take a trip. We also knew that this would most likely be a one-and-done situation; the first time that we had an opportunity to take a trip together would most likely be our last.

We would have loved to do something wonderful like travel to Europe to visit family, but that was definitely way beyond our means. We decided to go to one of Trent's favorite places and made plans to go to Orlando, Florida and have some fun at Walt Disney World. We had an incredible opportunity to use our friends' timeshare for a week along with spending a few days at a Disney property that came with a free meal plan. We were excited to go.

Before we had even picked our travel time, it looked like our trip was doomed. We were told that the cost for the January refill of Trent's anti-rejection medication, a necessity for anyone who has had a transplant, would be close to $3000 with the new pharmacy coverage this year. After that, it would be "no higher than $175 per month," we were told. Of course if the first month cost that much, all future prescriptions would have to be sent to someone else's address, because we'd be unable to afford rent for a few months to pay for that first fill. Luckily, that mess was straightened out, but it seemed that fate was conspiring against us.

All of our plans for setting aside money for vacation were thwarted at every conceivable opportunity. A plan to save x dollars per month dissolved as we found ourselves paying x or more each month for pharmacy expenses that we hadn't had in previous years. There would be one challenge after another trying to cancel our plans, including the fact that the park tickets we had purchased when we booked and paid for our room would not be active until after we checked into the Disney property, which was at the end of our trip. Luckily, the wonderful folks at Disney helped us out with that one, and we were able to use the tickets from the day we got to Florida, thank goodness.

We weathered the storms that kept blowing into our lives and scrimped wherever we could so that we could follow through with our plans for the trip. We had everything planned, I had meticulously budgeted for all parts of the trip, and we were all packed to go the night before departure. Our friend was picking us up at 7:30 a.m. to take us to the airport, so we went to bed as early as we were able and tried to sleep despite our excitement. And that's when something wonderful happened. My smartphone quit functioning properly. Yes, you read that correctly. At the time, I saw it as a very bad thing, just like you probably are right now. But sometimes our opinions change.

I am one of those people who have a hard time shutting down their brains at night and getting to sleep. Any and every possible thing that can be worried about will occur to me after I lay my head down to sleep at night. I'll lay in the dark and worry about things that I may or may not have done. Did I pack everything I needed? Are Trent's and my medications safely in our carry-on bags rather than our checked bags? Do we have enough cash? Did I remember to pay all of our bills before shutting off the computer? And this happens 365 days a year with me. My life has turned me into a worrier. I deal with this by listening to books every night. Most nights they will help divert my mind from its worries, enabling me to get some needed sleep. The night before vacation was no exception.

Now, using my phone's application to listen to a book for an hour uses very little of my phone's battery. That's why I was really surprised when I woke up at about 3:30 in the morning to tinkle and saw that my phone had gone from a full charge to about 40% power. I tried to look at the phone in the dark and figure out what was amiss to fix it, with no luck. When Trent woke up a bit later, I decided to get on the computer and try to figure things out. No luck whatsoever. And the carrier's help lines weren't available until 7:00, so there was no time to call for a fix on the problem. I plugged it in to charge and got ready to go.

So there I was on vacation with a phone that wouldn't hold a charge. It wasn't sending or receiving texts, and I wouldn't be able to use it to take photos, either. And it has a better camera than my actual camera, which I hadn't packed because my phone was supposed to do the job for me. I was able to use it at our lodging while it was plugged in, but other than that, I was going to have to do without. I was frustrated, but I certainly wasn't going to spend precious vacation time sitting on the phone trying to fix the problem. We decided to make do with Trent's phone and began to have fun.

Then I started to see that maybe being without my phone was a good thing. I didn't have a phone with me, and it wasn't working anyway, so I wasn't stuck dealing with unwanted calls or text messages. Social media could go on without me. I had written a couple of blog posts and was able to use my tablet-without-a-data-plan to post them. After a few days, I began to ask Trent to let me use his phone occasionally to take a picture or two, but mostly I spent my vacation being totally present.

What a gift the cell Gods had given me! I was able to focus my attention on being there, on enjoying myself, on living in the moment. Gone was the worry about what I might be missing out on in my non-vacation life. If there was anything I needed to take care of, like making sure my bills were all paid and my accounts were in order, it could be taken care of when the day's play was done and we were "home" for the night. I began to see things differently, and some of what I saw made me sad.

Taking a family vacation to Disney can be done with a budget, but park tickets are not cheap. Everywhere I looked, I saw people squandering their time, and their investment in park tickets, on their phones. I saw children as young as seven or eight walking around with iPhones in front of their faces. They didn't see the Fairy Godmother or other characters walking by them because they were playing on their phones. Parents were missing the amazement on children's faces because they were busy with emails and texts and calls. Their bodies were there, but their selves were absentees. Trent and I would look at each other and shake our heads sadly. Why were they even there?

This was something we saw every single day of our trip and every time of the day or night. We saw families sitting down for meals in restaurants both casual and fancy, never speaking to one another during the meal. On more than one occasion, I saw people who were on rides and totally ignoring what was in front of their faces - they were using their phones during the rides! The moment that stunned us the most? A young newlywed couple got on the shuttle bus we were riding home late one night. Instead of holding hands and giggling and cuddling in the dark, they sat side by side, oblivious of each other's presence. They were updating Facebook and playing games. I have to wonder what all of these people will be like twenty years from now. Will they even know one another? What will they have to talk about? Will that family or their children have any memories of their big vacation? Will mom and dad wonder why they are unable to communicate with their kids?

I am a huge fan of technology. Now that my phone is working, I use it to keep on top of things. I'm in the process of getting the pictures I took transferred from Trent's phone to mine. But I also don't have the same connection to being online that I did before. I was home about three days before I even turned on my computer, which really surprised me. Of course, I was tired from vacationing in the hot-as-the-ninth-circle-of-Hell land of Orlando. Maybe when I'm back in the swing of things my views will change. But I'm still grateful that a simple malfunction enabled me not to be an absentee on my own vacation.




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