Lessons Learned in a tough time l Chuck's World

By Chuck Sigars | Jan 03, 2018

The new year is so shiny.

It always is, but this year seems particularly gleaming in its newness. It’s not as though I have inside information, or that I’m particularly optimistic about 2018 and its sparkling possibilities. I’m just enjoying the newness.

I like the feeling of pulling the wrapping off one final package. I like crisp, new calendars crackling under the weight of potential. I like anticipating the seasons to come, the surprises that await, and even the losses that inevitably we’ll gather together into sad montages.

I’m also enjoying a strange sensation of achievement, made stranger by the lack of a lot achieved. I passed no milestones in 2017 that I’m aware of, no big birthday, nothing paid off, nothing built, nothing polished into perfection. It wasn’t disappointing, just unremarkable, and still I’m finding myself unreasonably pleased.

And I know where it began, and when. It was a year ago, last January, when my family headed to Arizona to, in fact, mark one of those big birthdays. As my mother approached her 80th birthday, an age that has become remarkably unremarkable here in the 21st century but still feels pretty important, my siblings and I began to talk about some sort of celebration.

We arranged to have a party, then, in Scottsdale, Arizona, close to home. Invitations were sent, a space was reserved, arrangements were made, and it was easy and fun and pretty much perfect. You can construct a lot of memories over 80 years, and a lot of them walked in on their own two feet, with much joy, reminiscing and celebration.

I was celebrating with everyone else, but I had a little problem. A tiny one. A minor issue.

The party had been planned months in advance. There were many details to work out, of course, but we settled the date early on. It was her birthday, after all; dates were sort of important.

No one thought about football during the planning, not that anyone would. My family all live in different parts of the country, and their particular passions are their own. If anyone had a potential conflict, they made other arrangements.

And it was January, and on a Saturday, and who thinks about the NFL?

I did, as it turned out. If you’re a professional football fan and you follow the Seahawks, which feels to me like an unnecessary qualification but people are different, you might remember the end of the 2016 season. A team that has made a tradition of theatrical finishes had been playing very well, and they’d just beaten Detroit handily, at home, in the Wild Card game.

That particular January Saturday, then, was the day of the NFC Divisional Playoff, in Atlanta versus a very good Falcons team. It was scheduled to start about the same time as the birthday party. No one else seemed the least bit interested. I didn’t blame them. We had priorities.

But I also had a phone. At first, my notifications were fast and furious, every play of any importance, every catch, every punt, every anything instantly pushed out from Atlanta to Arizona, buzzing my pocket with the latest. It was almost like being in two places at once.

I only wanted to be in one place, though. I turned off my phone, enjoyed the party, basked in family and the familiarity of faces. It was just a game, even if an important one in the scheme of things, because I’d pretty easily changed the scheme.

This wasn’t a noble gesture at all; it was my mother’s birthday, for Pete’s sake. My attention wasn’t going to be diverted in any case. Of course I turned my dumb phone off.

There was just something about an important thing getting in the way of another important thing, and determining what was really important and finding it an easy call. So to speak.

Look, I know it’s rough out there. I’m been awake for most of 2017. There’s an unease that can’t be minimized because everyone seems to be feeling it. There’s been enough death and disaster for any year, much less the invective and hate and distrust that seeps into casual conversation. Even our distractions seem tainted by ugly politics and unspoken fear.

But distractions are so important. And right at the beginning of the year, I learned my lesson. Sometimes you just need to turn off the phone and have some cake.

Even my 4-year-old grandson has a smartphone, although there are special circumstances. He has Type 1 diabetes, and he has an implantable blood-sugar monitor that sends updates via the phone to his parents and other caregivers. It’s an older model and he just needs to carry it around. He’s not checking Twitter during quiet time.

But he’s apparently fascinated by the idea that in the olden days, he wouldn’t be able to see his grandparents on the small screen via video chat, and the other day he called me, an old-fashioned phone call that amused him to no end. It amused Grandpa a bit, too.

And I was once again reminded that there are other things. They don’t distract as much as remind us we are being distracted from more important matters. A big day. A big boy.

I’m writing this before the end of the year, by the way, as I’m heading to see that boy for a few days. I’ll miss the big Seahawks game on New Year’s Eve. I’m thinking I’ll be just fine. I think we all may be.

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