(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, July 25, 2015)
HAMILTON, CANADA ✦ The last time I peed in a bottle, my doctor looked it over, then looked me over, took my blood pressure and finally said, “Good God, man! How in the world do you manage to do it?”
He told me that he thought I’d live to be 100, and then, if I remember correctly, (which I don’t always, anymore), he said something about putting a large poster of me in his clinic (or was it on the front of the building?) to encourage others of my, uh, vintage. I think that’s what he said, anyway.
“Dad, you’re going to live to be 100!” my children now remind me occasionally, naively unaware that this means I might outlive them and their inheritance.
In either case, on an otherwise unremarkable summer day, I recently reached what’s apparently my halfway mark. I’m now in The 50 Club, those of us walking this earth since before anyone stepped on the moon, never mind carried the sum total of the world’s information in their back pocket.
As a reward for this remarkable achievement, for getting out of bed and taking one step in front of the other for five decades, I asked my family for inline skates. I did not ask for a smart phone.
This is because my current phone, a 10-year-old flip that’s older than two of my three children, is rather dear. Purchased in Dubai just after life in Yemen finished and just before life in Uganda began, it’s small enough to fit in my pocket with plenty of room to spare and, when in Africa, cheap enough to pull out and call Canada for less than the cost of lunch.
In phone years, it must be 100 itself. In its long and faithful life, it’s been dropped, kicked, lost, found and generally loved, this since the time when tweeting was just what birds did and information wasn’t yet peddled on the market like diminishing currency no longer backed by gold.
Now my old phone, old even by developing world standards, and my older age, and my new red, hip inline skates are all converging in a sort of happy dance. It’s all in the spirit of summer and my new life motto of “Doing less and liking it more.”
I realize this may seem strange: someone with newspapering in his blood who’s so hopelessly disconnected, who cares so little about what’s out there. The Economist reports that half of the planet’s adults now have smart phones. That’s expected to be 80 per cent by 2020. Why am I missing the party?
In truth, it’s the price I pay for world peace. Well, at least peace in my world. Because really, peace, like war, is about what’s happening inside of you as much as what’s happening out there somewhere.
You know what I mean. We’re anxious when the price of oil goes too high and anxious when it’s too low. We’re anxious when our children are underfoot and we’re anxious when they’re too far away. We worry when it’s too hot outside, then worry when it’s too cold.
We worry over news reports of war and murder and planes falling from the sky, not to mention terrorism, even if the world, generally, is more at peace (what this world calls peace, anyway) than ever, even if crime is down and air travel safer than ever. Yes, statistically, you’re more likely to die by falling off a ladder than by any act of terror.
This is not to say that I don’t have my anxieties. I do. Perishing somewhere in Africa has become one of them. So why live with more distraction, with more, as Coleridge put it, “water, water everywhere, with not any drop to drink?” Why choose more knowledge (if it’s even knowledge) and less wisdom?
Instead, I’ll go for my new red skates. Hamilton’s picturesque bayfront is one spot where my family especially likes to skate while we’re here, while we’re home.
“So where is everyone?” I asked my eldest there at the waterfront recently, the two of us, hand-in-hand, rolling in the sunshine, barely a soul around. “It’s such a beautiful day!”
“I don’t know,” she said. “At home with their devices.”