Monday, March 23, 2009

The Local iPod Father

My husband and I love hiking. We love getting away from the city—from paved roads, fast food corners, and the demands of work—and escaping to forests, mountains, and wilderness. Several months ago, we went on a small hiking trip in a beautiful forest in Washington. The drive to the trailhead was a precarious incline on wet gravel, but as soon as we got out of the car and started on the trail we were enveloped with rich, dense rainforest. The reverence of the forest around us was profoundly silencing. I felt a natural urge to step carefully and quietly so that nothing would interrupt my feeling of awe. I could hear the rain—not a patter on a windshield or windowpane, but a light tinkling over pine needles or a tiny thud as water trickled through the high canopy overhead and landed on a branch or tree trunk. In response to the comforting balm inherent to nature, sometimes my husband and I talked quietly about ideas and things that came to mind. Not heavy, worrisome thoughts, but organic ones that seemed to grow up and out of our minds and hearts.

Our refreshing tromp through the forest was interrupted only by scattered passersby on the trail. We saw people of all kinds. Some were couples like us, old and young, who were quiet. A brief nod was enough recognition for them before we both moved on without interrupting each others’ thoughts too much. Others were louder, like a group of college students or a large family with several reluctant teenagers.

There were two parties on the trail that day who really stuck out to me because they contrasted so much. On our way up the trail, early on we passed a group that seemed to be two families—two young couples who each had an infant strapped to one parent or the other. Three of the adults were talking about their kids as they headed down the trail. One father, however, hung behind the rest about five feet. He was listening to an iPod. I contrasted that image with another father I saw on the trail. We passed him on the way up and he passed us on the way down. His son, probably about eighteen months, sat high in a child carrier above his father’s shoulders. It was just the two of them. The dad was a little slower than us going up, but a very fast hiker on the way down. We passed them a third time, however, just a quarter of a mile from the trailhead when we were nearly finished. The father had taken his son out of the carrier and was taking a picture of him crossing a little stream.

What a difference. In both cases the children were too small to hold a very reasonable conversation, but the father with the carrier was giving an experience to himself and his son. To himself he gave rigorous exercise and the enjoyment of the outdoors. To his son he gave an invitation to love those things as well. What an experience for that little boy! The iPod father, however, didn’t give anything to himself or his son but neglect and a missed opportunity.

I don’t want to knock iPods or people who use them, but I’m ashamed of anytime that I’ve acted like the local iPod father—-to family members or friends—-by shutting myself, them, and everything else besides an electronic media toy out of my life. There are times when I’ve shut out enriching opportunities just by my attitude, even without a handheld device. I hope that stops. I hope I can remember what I felt during the quiet, reverent moments on the trail that day and never exchange an experience like that for an hour with an iPod.

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