Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sundays in Edinburgh

It was the Fall of 1978. My wife and I were at the beginning of a year-long trip around the world and had arrived at a Youth Hostel in Edinburgh. We settled in and awoke to a glorious Sunday morning with church bells pealing. We went to see about breakfast at the Youth Hostel, but none was offered and we were out of any food we had been carrying. So off we went to look for a market or a café or restaurant. Little did we know that in Edinburgh in 1978, they took the Sabbath literally. In our first pass around a ten-block radius, there wasn’t a single store of any kind open. Driven by our grumbling stomachs, we widened our search. No luck. We began asking everyone we met, most of whom seemed puzzled that we hadn’t prepared for this on Saturday. Didn’t we know the Sunday is a day of rest? I remember many weary miles later finding some bar open with a very bored stripper and grabbing some very dubious sandwich of sorts. In the rest of our European travels, we never made that mistake again.

I imagine things are quite different in Edinburgh in 2012, as they are in most of the world. Commerce and consumerism has conquered all and with so many of us permanently residing in cyberspace, the world is a 24/7 no-rest-from-shopping place. Banks and post offices still close on Sunday, as do schools, downtown offices and many businesses, so there is a faint echo of the notion of no work. And of course, some religious folks, like Orthodox Jews, still take that notion literally to an extreme, prohibiting turning on electrical devices, driving and cooking. (When I was in New York recently, I accidentally went on the Shabbat elevator, programmed to stop at every floor to accommodate the prohibition about touching buttons.) But for most of us—and here I confess to having joined the “constantly-connected-culture”—the weekend can feel like an inconvenient interruption.

So when I found out that the house in Sea Ranch I was retreating to with eight other people had no Internet service, it felt like a radical proposition. Two days off the grid?! I remember traveling to Ghana in 1999, a few months after I first began using e-mail. Five-weeks later, I returned to an Internet Café and discovered that I had—10 e-mails. In 2008, I went to Cuba and it took four days to find an Internet connection in a hotel. Awaiting me were— 185 e-mails! Quite a leap in a mere nine years. Not that I had grown more popular— simply that the mediums of communication had shifted radically. (And of course, the junk mailers now knew where I lived.)

“How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?” is the catchy title of a funny book about relationships, but it applies to all aspects of our life. There is wisdom in the idea of rest and retreat, a time to pay a different kind of attention to the world, to step off the dizzying merry-go-round of hypercommunication and maybe, God forbid, feel bored for a few moments. Shift from the grab-your-attention glitz of screens and texts to what’s in front of your nose and who is at your side. And then re-enter the day-to-day refreshed from having stepped out.

Since this blog is titled “Confessions…” and I’m aimed for some measure of honesty and truth, I’m going to fess up here. I started writing this before my retreat, woke up at the retreat to complete the thought and was invited to join Linksys. So much for no Internet connection! “Might as well post this blog!” I says to myself and then step out to walk to the beach and join the real world.

1 comment:

  1. Argentina completely shuts down on Sunday. It sucks!