Contemplative Helplessness

Now that I’m retired, I thought I was making great strides towards what everybody is expected to do in this state: contemplative inaction. Let me rephrase that. I meant to suggest that, with the surfeit of time accorded me, I can finally afford the luxury of thinking about things without necessarily having to do them. It’s the great sit-back, in other words: the magnificent summation. The coda.

I have to say that I have never been comfortable with confrontation, so the opportunity to collate what I have learned and organize it into some semblance of Wisdom without the need for a preliminary skirmish is appealing. Remember, wisdom doesn’t have to involve omniscience, or profundity –or even a huge amount of experience- it just has to be helpful. To someone…

So much of what we fob off as wisdom is time-sensitive, though, so we have to be careful who we are advising.

Amud and I run into each other sometimes at the Mall. Neither of us hang out there, or anything, but we do seem to gravitate to the same bench at times. It’s an almost biblical breakwater in the stormy Mall waters that seem to part like the Red Sea around an Apple store. Not apple as in eating, you understand –they don’t seem to attract crowds anymore- no, I mean Apple, as in the technological empire’s store.

At any rate, it’s a fun place to sit. We first met inauspiciously, bearing our wounded iPhones that we had brought, as if to Lourdes, in hopes of cure. And there was a certain pilgrimagey feel to it: we had both tried secular sources of help; both attempted online deliverance, but to no avail. Finally, in desperation, we had both sought miraculous intervention through a long public transit journey to this brightly lit grotto, tucked garishly into the top floor of an otherwise unremarkable mall. Far from the nauseating odour of the Food Court, and removed from the ebb and flow of the overfed, it basked in its own reflected glory. With soft leather couches scattered tastefully at its gates, it welcomed believers and agnostics alike to partake equally and liberally of its healing arts –as long as they had an appointment.

As I said, the first time I met Amud he was outside the Apple temple. He was comfortably ensconced –sprawled really- on the largest couch as if he were about to watch his favourite program on TV. I even looked around to see if there was a TV set with sports playing in the window, but couldn’t see one. Amud who had apparently researched the issue more thoroughly than me, asked me if I had an appointment; I, having only overheard whispers of cure in a coffee shop, said I did not.

“They’ll never let you past the sentry,” he said, when I mentioned that I had made the long and arduous journey without official sanction.

“I didn’t know I needed permission to attend,” I said, despair growing in my voice.

For some reason he found that amusing, and chuckled. “Didn’t you look it up online?” he said, looking at me with new respect. I shook my head in embarrassment. “Neither did I,” he admitted. “I came down yesterday and sat here for a couple of hours before someone noticed me and said they wouldn’t be able to see me until today.”

I think my mouth fell open at that point. I glanced into the gleaming mouth of the Apple cave where the bright-eyed, always-smiling acolytes were smooging clients into seats and pointing at stuff on the shelves in front of them. “In fairness, they did apologize, though…” He thought about it for a moment. “But the young man they sent to talk to me couldn’t seem to wipe the grin off his face.” Amud blinked. “How can you trust someone who refuses to stop smiling?”

Good point. But he was right, I thought as I looked at the employees. Nobody can smile that much without collapsing. I pointed to the empty couches. “They don’t seem very busy this morning,” I said, hope dripping from each word. “So, maybe…”

“Same thing yesterday when I came,” he interrupted with a sad shrug.

We sat in silence for a while. “Why are you here?” I finally asked, more for something to do, than out of curiosity I have to admit.

“Can’t get the phone to work.” He held up the poor unresponsive thing he was cradling like a dead puppy so I could see it. “It ran out of juice and I thought maybe that was the problem, so I recharged it for a few hours, but it just wouldn’t come on.” He sighed and gazed at it with a worried expression. Then his face changed as a thought occurred to him and he looked at me, apologetically. “I didn’t drop it, or anything…” Obviously somebody had already accused him of abuse.

“My wife went online and said I needed to reboot it, or something. She showed me where the on/off button was, but nothing happened. Then she grabbed it from me and tried several other tricks she’d learned on a chat forum.” He smiled at me. “Honestly, it was like watching somebody doing CPR –the desperation in her eyes was something I’ll never forget.

“Anyway, she finally decided I needed to make the trip and found out what buses I should take to get here.”

I nodded empathetically; the phone has almost become a member of the family. Even the thought of its demise is fraught with inconsolable grief. “Do you mind if I see it…?”

He fixed me with a stare that is usually reserved for pedophiles, or maybe strangers on a dark street. But I think he could tell I would be careful. He handed me a phone that looked a lot like mine –different clothes, perhaps, but the same genes.

Of course I tried poking the on/off button several times like everybody else. Nothing worked. So, I did what I always do when I’m stumped: I try combinations and permutations -the stochastic approach. If there are four buttons, I try pushing and holding them in different ways, in different orders, and for different times. It takes a while, but we were both waiting anyway.

I was working my way through the combinations and I could see Amud was getting anxious that I was really going to break something and void his warranty. He made an attempt to grab it when it suddenly came to life. He almost sobbed. “How did you know to do that?” he managed to stammer, with tears in his eyes. “I thought my wife and I tried everything!”

I shrugged modestly; I’d tried so many things already, I honestly couldn’t remember what I’d just done.

“How about your phone?” he asked, more out of indebtedness than hope of succour, I think. “What’s wrong with it?”

I blushed. “Same thing, actually…”

Amud, with a memory bank clearly unimpeded by his years, grabbed it from my hand and like my grandson with a Rubik’s Cube, quickly repeated my procedure until the phone, Lazarus-like, sat up and blinked.

We both turned our attention to the grotto in whose light we bathed. The frantic little elves were still pointing and nodding their heads. Still helping. Still smiling… We read each other’s minds in that moment: they were obviously stalling for time in there. Stalling until they found the right combination of buttons…

And that realization is why the two of us meet here every once in a while: a celebration of technology in a way. A recognition that its mastery, is only complicated if you try too hard to understand it; for the rest of us, it’s largely serendipitous.







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