Hangin’ Around the Observatory by John Hiatt
There are those who feel there’s too much inter-connectivity. That we shouldn’t have those smart phones, the internet and email and everything at our fingertips. It’s too easy to look up something when we should take the time to go to the library, look it up, find the answers.
But technology is my savior. It truly is.
I live in a state where I didn’t grow up, don’t have family and really had no connection to until I met my wife. Once she passed away, I couldn’t see placing my kids in that very same situation. Their Mom is now here, permanently. Their grandparents, cousins and aunt are here. In the weeks after Andrea died I was within just a day or two of packing everyone up in a Ryder truck and moving to Nebraska, living with my folks in their house, and figuring out what to do while my oldest daughter finished high school. I’d been told that my work was looking to “make a change” and cutting my salary by an insane amount of money. I would not be able to survive and even though I’d already begun looking for a different job by then, I didn’t have one. I got lucky. I have a job, an amazing one, that allows me to do what I do best – tell stories.
But here’s where technology comes in. Go back to just a couple days before Andrea died. I got the call Andrea had gone into respiratory arrest. My wife, Dad and brother are pharmacists. I know what that means and know that it’s really, really bad. I was in a panic. I needed help but I had none. My parents, you see, were on their way to visit my older brother in Texas. Twenty years ago, I’d have been screwed, hyperventilating in a car in the rain on the way to the hospital with no hope and no help.
But it wasn’t 20 years ago. It was in March.
I called my Dad’s cell phone. He answered, even though it was roughly 4am there – in Norman, Oklahoma, where they had stopped for the night. This was a random motel, a random choice, and there would have been no way I could have gotten hold of him. While I was on the phone, crying, worried that she was going to die that night, he had already silently told my Mom to pack up and they were in the car, turning West, heading my way. Had there been no cell phones, I’d have had to wait until they got to Texas, the next day, letting my brother tell them.
Instead, they were on the way. When they got to California, they arrived at the house an hour after I told the kids their Mom had died – precisely when we needed them.
Go back farther: when Andrea first went into the hospital, in the ICU, everyone wanted to know what was happening. I used my Twitter feed to give hourly updates. My cell phone had been dying, I couldn’t keep up with everyone and I quit trying to be nice. I told them I was sorry, but unless it was her parents, sister, or my family, they could get updates on Twitter. It was perfect. Every hour I posted what was going on.
When she died, after the appropriate calls were made, after I had started to crawl back up to my own feet, I let the rest of the world know on both Twitter and Facebook: “We lost Andrea this morning. It is our 18th anniversary. I asked her to stay for it. Guess she just couldn’t hold on. I miss her so much.”
That was priceless. Why? Because what people don’t realize – particularly the ones who haven’t spoken with Andrea or the loved on YOU lost, in a horribly long time, is that every call they make to make themselves feel better about having been out of the picture is like taking a bottle of lemon juice and pouring it into the wound. Make no mistake, particularly that close to the hour it happened, you are in pain, serious, physical pain. There are those you have to tell. Your parents, her parents, you kids, obviously, and then the very close friends and relatives.
But every time you take that call, get that “Oh my God, I’m so sorry, what happened?” question, you have to go back . . . two steps back . . . to the very moment all over again. You break down, even though you don’t want to. You are dehydrated you cry so much. You are in a fog because you haven’t slept for days. You are, quite simply, a freakin’ mess.
Technology made those days so much easier. We got amazing notes; fantastic comments; beautiful sentiments of 180 characters or less. Technology helped me to heal without reliving all of the pain more than I had to.
That’s not the only time it helps.
I talk to my folks daily. I use my cell phone, calling them in down time, on the drive home, when I see something amazing, whenever I need them. They are the pillars holding me up while I boost my children.
My daughter, an amazing, brilliant child, still has her times of hardship and difficulty. I became a journalist because, let’s be honest, I suck at math. Never was good at it. My older brother, though, is a mathematical genius. That’s not an exaggeration, it’s just a true statement. (He once tested and was accepted to MENSA, only to turn them down because he thought it was silly they wanted him to pay them to certify him a genius. He already knew that. Not arrogance, just truth.)
When she has problems with math and I can’t solve it? She scans in the homework, emails it, and her two uncles, brilliant men in two different states, use text, email and scanners to help guide her to her answers. When Hannah wants to know how to play a song, we record it on the phone, text it to her uncle, and he lets her know what he has done. When I write a new song I save the settings, FTP it to his server, and if it’s a great take we can keep it. Otherwise, he can learn it, and we cut rehearsal and recording time in half.
When a friend of Andrea’s – who lost her husband – knows what I’m going through and wants to find me, she got me on Facebook and we’ve become even better friends since. I know someone out there has been where I am and has the joys and frustrations I have, and doesn’t tell me how to go through this, just understands that I am.
When I need to let someone above the age of 16 what I’m going through, I can write . . . here . . . and feel a little like I’m getting someone to hear what I’m going through.
Yes, in the Lady Gaga and Katy Perry world of today, Video did kill the radio star. Janice and Jimi would have languished by today’s standards. But don’t blame the technology for the end of the world.
It saved mine.