Chaplain's Corner: No power energizes conversation

When the power goes out, it can be an inconvenience. We lose easy connection with the outside world. We have to put on an extra sweater to stay warm. If the power is out long enough, we may have to throw away some of our food.
But for those who depend on electricity to run medical equipment at home, losing power can be dangerous.

When my neighborhood lost power on Dec. 27, it was only an inconvenience. We did not have heat. As the sun set, our only illumination was flashlights or candles. And of course, there was no TV or WiFi. Because of mediocre cell phone data connectivity, we had no access to the web and sporadic ability even to send texts.

For a handful of hours, it was just my 18-year-old son and I in a darkening apartment. What happened?

We had the most genuine, enjoyable interaction with one another in months. Without technology getting in the way, we actually had to talk with one another, face-to-face.

At first, I struggled with how to begin. I decided to turn to music, since many of our musical interests overlap. I said I was a little envious of his generation because he has much easier access to music because of the web. I added that when I was in high school, I was limited to FM radio, music stores, word of mouth and cassette tapes that we made for each other.

Cassettes piqued his curiosity. How did they work? How did they record music? How did they play back music? How hard was it to figure out how much time you had left?

I shared anecdotes of waiting for just the right song to be played on the radio for me to record. I described trying to time the recording of live concerts, so that I flipped the cassette over right as a song ended or as quickly as possible, God forbid, in the middle of a song if I was running out of tape. I also tried to describe the art of creating a mix tape for friends and my frustrations of declining sound quality after the cassette had been played multiple times.
At times he shook his head at how “archaic” cassette technology was and how hard it was to manipulate the medium.

He smiled at me when I explained my frustration of my music collection becoming virtual; how I prefer to have a physical copy of albums, tapes and CDs; and how I never got over losing my Napster collection because the digital format changed.

He was intrigued by how easy it is for him to build a collection, when I had to devote who knows how many hours and resources collecting albums, CDs and recording my own cassettes. (My collection is still intact, going back to junior high school.)

He shared how he uses the web to explore all kinds of music, genres, bands, soloists and collaborations. Depending on whether he is studying, working or coping with a bad day, he turns to a particular song or performer.

I responded that music enabled me to survive high school. Springsteen and The Who, in particular, shepherded me through some challenging and dark times.

There is such a stark difference between the musical awareness of bands and genres between my son and myself at the same age. I will continue to play catch-up, which means we will always have plenty to talk about musically.

I did not enjoy being without power for the bulk of one day in December. But in the absence of technology, the genuine, enjoyable time of unmediated communication I had with my son made it worthwhile and only drew us closer together.

Our next challenge: can we interact the same way when we have technological distractions at our fingertips? Can we just put our phones down and resist the urge to check alerts? Texts?

Better yet, what else will we be able to talk about? Not just small talk … skimming along the surface. We already do that. I am talking about topics when we dig deep, and I truly get to know my son, and he truly begins to understand his dad.

Rabbi Barry Cohen is the Jewish community chaplain of the Greater Portland area.



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