By Patrick Schmadeke
The Catholic Messenger
The pandemic has changed life for people of all ages around the world in dramatic fashion.
Many of those who live in nursing homes have experienced an unprecedented degree of isolation. Young adults starting out at college have seen their college experience radically altered.
Working parents have experienced the collision created by working from home while attempting to oversee their children’s daycare and online learning. The variations of this kind of experience are unique and challenging in their own ways.
For us, I was at home finishing school while we kept Matthew home from daycare and Rachel continued to go to work. As it turned out, my attempts to attend to school work via computer and Matthew’s attempts to play with me throughout the day were simply irreconcilable desires.
Technology does have the capacity to bring people together but, as it turns out, it can also create a distance between us.
Spending more than three months of quality time with a 3-year-old since mid-March has been a revelatory experience of the embodied nature of our humanity. Much of this calls into question the role of technology in day-to-day life.
For example, very early on, Matthew was frank with me about his dictate for my use of a computer during the day to get schoolwork done. Most of the time we adults can fulfill the obligations of social niceties while half listening to one another and allowing our minds to wander elsewhere. However, there is no fooling a 3-year-old. When they want to pretend to be a firefighter and you have been designated with the role of managing the hose to put out the fire, you can’t pretend to pay attention. One is either all in or all out.
Still more subtle were occasions of conversation when he could tell I was trying to pay attention to my computer. These times also left him none too happy. For both of us, this brought on a distaste for the interference that technology was having in our relationship. The essential insight from this accrual of experiences: children have figured out embodiment, or how to be fully present to one another in ways that many adults forget. Being fully present in this childlike manner leaves no room for distraction or preoccupation. It is the recognition that the person you are with is, perhaps, “the holiest object presented to your senses,” as C.S. Lewis said.
I wonder what the world would look like if society and our local communities put this essential truth into practice. To discover the inexhaustible dignity of our neighbor always demands more of us. Therefore, we might be trained for endurance instead of impatience, humility instead of boastfulness and docility to the Holy Spirit where there was once rigidity regarding our ideas about God.
This training would aid our capacity to be more fully present to one another, to enhance our capacity to cut through the distance between us created by technological, political, economic and social barriers. Such forms of presence are not mere boxes we can check-off, but an ever-deepening reality. We may expect to discover the fullness of offering our attention on any given occasion but, inevitably, we find there is always more of ourselves to offer.
Such is the nature of the mystery of loving relationships in which we involve ourselves on this earth. It is Trinitarian love that is the underlying fabric of creation. This love is one of mutual self-gift. When we live into this love by offering the fullness of our presence to one another, we liver ever-more authentic lives.
(Editor’s note: Patrick Schmadeke is a graduate of St. Ambrose University (‘13) and of the Master of Divinity program at the University of Notre Dame.)
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