Wednesday, April 14, 2010

iPhones and Passings

My friend writer Helen Brown lost her iPhone. Quel bereavement! Because she was on holiday at Byron Bay and was just about to pack up and leave, there was no chance of it turning up under a cushion as might have happened at home.
“No doubt it's jiggling about inside the shorts pocket of a virile surfie,” she wrote in her blog. http://browngentry.livejournal
But then she added, “Living without it is surprisingly liberating. Not being available every second of the day is the definition of 21st century freedom.”
How wedded we’ve become to our gadgets. I’ve just switched over from PC to Mac because everyone I know who owns a Mac just loves it. Adapting is currently doing my head in but I’m beginning to see glimmerings of how good it will be once I’m sorted. And how I will hate to ever lose the thing.
I remember once, in the midst of writing a book, how I refused to leave my laptop in my car at a secluded beach to go for a walk. I had a thousand projected-related emails in that computer and couldn’t bear to think of losing the lot to a smash-and-grab thief. “I’ve got my life on that thing,” I said to my thwarted hiking buddy. She rolled her eyes, obviously thinking how pathetic I was.
This week I was reminded that the important things in life sometimes have nothing to do with technical wizardry.
I was in a hospital emergency room, waiting for a friend to have a health problem seen to.
We chatted with a staff nurse as she set and supervised an IV drip. My friend is also a health professional, so the chat was more open than would normally be the case.
The nurse talked about a dreadful day she’d just had as one of a team working on a young patient who was dying of a sudden and massive internal bleed.
She said how hard the emergency team had worked to save the patient, and how gut-wrenching it had been to lose the life of that stranger.
“Then,” she said casually, “We blessed the room.”
I was amazed. How do you do that, I wanted to know. And how often? Oh, all the time. Do you call in a chaplain? ‘Sometimes,” she said, “if there’s one around. But often we do it ourselves .”
Quietly, without fuss, someone will sprinkle water and maybe say a small prayer to send on the soul and make the space fresh for the next sick or injured body to occupy.
Emergency care is, of course, also a matter of employing high-tech skills and gadgets. But sometimes even the best skills and gadgets can’t work miracles.
How good it is to know that at least some of those highly trained and overstretched workers will spare a moment to do what human beings have always done. That they’ll pause, pay respect and carry out a small, unseen ritual to honour the passing of a life.
We may be wedded to our gizmos in the 21st century, but our humanity still runs deep.
Sitting there, in one of the country’s busiest emergency departments, I was immensely moved.
* I’m running a ‘Story of My Life’ one-day workshop in Auckland on May 9. Your life, with all its drama, deserves to be written about. Remember, no life is ever ordinary. For more info check out