One of the great challenges of recent years has been limiting our face to screen time and prioritising our face to face time. So that we are not reduced to digital zombies - with everyone glued all the time to our phones.
We are all digital zombies now
But, in the lockdown, many of us have become 100% digital in our social interaction. And the rest of us are not far behind.
So what does all this mean? Can we really be community if we are ONLY meeting up online?
What does it mean to be truly present in a community? And is it enough if we are ONLY present digitally?
My own dilemma
At the beginning of the lockdown I had a difficult choice to make.
My husband was working mostly from our family home in Wiltshire and my daughters wanted to be there with us both. I had to choose whether to be physically present with my family or physically remain in the Vicarage on my own.
It was a difficult choice.
Everything within me wanted to stay put in the parish.
And yet, at the same time, everything within me wanted to be with my family.
I discussed these feelings - which were tearing me apart - with my Staff Team, the Bishop and my family and finally came to the conclusion that, if the lockdown was likely to be a long time, I should not be on my own.
The Bishop and my colleagues assured me that, given the church was completely closed, there was almost nothing I could do from the Vicarage that I could not do online from afar.
So three weeks ago I decamped to Wiltshire and have been working here since. Just being at the ready to come back to London and play my part on the Hounslow Deanery funeral rota as and when required.
It has not been easy.
Despite having an amazing and supportive churchwarden on the ground in the parish, I continually feel I am in the wrong place. Of course, I recognise that if I’d made a different decision then I’d probably have felt I was in the wrong place – apart from my family – too.
What does to mean to be present?
All this has made me question what it truly means to be present? Can you be present at a distance?
I have, of course, been meeting up with people online every day and talking on the phone. And this is exactly what I’d be doing if I were sitting in Chiswick. The only difference would be the colours of the wall behind me when I appear on the screen on my laptop.
Many people, of course, have far greater problems than I do. They have loved ones in hospital gravely ill or dying and are unable to be present at their bedsides.
Of course, nurses are allowing patients to see their loved ones on phones and this has been the way that family members have told them they love them, prayed for them and encouraged them. And I am sure that this has made a huge difference. That people can feel and receive love digitally as well as face to face.
Perhaps to be present is to give someone your full attention.
So often we can be in the same room as someone else, sitting next to them on the sofa, and yet we might as well be on another planet. We are in a bubble of our own little worlds and are not giving the other person any attention at all.
Getting together via WhatsApp or Zoom is not a substitute for having a hug or eating a meal together but it is a way to be truly present. To give our attention. And our love.
Don’t beat yourself up
So if you are in a position like me – yearning to be in two places at the same time – don’t beat yourself up. Do what you can. Be present physically with those, if any, you are with. And be present digitally with those you are not with.
Either way you will be present. Giving you attention and giving your love.