Smartphones are a safety net.
They prevent us from having to expose vulnerability by admitting we are lost. They help us to not feel awkward when we are having lunch alone, riding the bus alone, or when we don’t want to be approached.
We can revel in the comfort of the familiar glow of a 3 x 5.5” screen, and only occasionally look up to ask our server for the check, or make sure we’re not tripping on anything as we walk down the street.
We record beautiful moments on our phones instead of actually watching them.
Sound familiar? Yeah. You’re not the only one.
I’ve gotten better at navigating without a phone. At first I was afraid of getting lost in one of the million little winding alleys of El Barrio Gotic. But I had to suck it up and get used to the idea that I might have to actually TALK to people and maybe even…**gasp**…ask for DIRECTIONS!
Friday night I went to dinner at 9pm, typical Catalan dinner hour, at a Turkish hole-in-the-wall, Salterio. My AirBnB customer service representative randomly suggested it in an email, so I found the directions via my laptop, memorized the turn by turn directions from my house, and walked over.
The restaurant was small but it was rammed: there was a large group celebrating a birthday, several couples…all locals, it seemed.
There was only one seat left. It was at the bar, near the front door.
I quickly realized the entire restaurant was being run by only two people – an old Turkish woman and her son. He looked frazzled and warned me my order would take a while because they were so busy.
“Esta bien. No estoy de prisa,” I told him.
(It’s okay, I’m in no rush).
He gave me a look of relief and handed me a menu, as he continued to mutter orders frantically to his mother.
Seated directly in front of the old woman, I watched her intently. Her wrinkled, veiny hands trembled as she calmly sliced up one fresh tomato, onion, and mint sprig after another.
Her son’s frenzy seemed to have no effect on her. She noticed me watching her and smiled,
“Todos quieren todo al momento. Todo el mundo esta de prisa. Hacemos lo que podemos.”
(Everyone wants everything at once. The world is in a rush. We do what we can.)
The old woman offered to relocate me to a table if one opened up. I politely declined. Because what she didn’t realize was, I was enjoying watching her cook.
She reminded me of my abuelita (grandma) Chuy who passed away years ago. I used to love watching her cook, cross-stitch, or pretty much do anything with her trembling, yet steadfast hands. Her hands didn’t work as quickly as they used to, but they created magic, upholding multiple generations of tradition within them.
I sat at that bar for nearly two hours, completely entranced by this woman.
It felt like my grandmother was reaching out to me through her. And the crowded chaos around me slowly disappeared.
And do you know WHY I noticed these things?
Because I didn’t have a phone.
I didn’t have a phone to curb the awkwardness of sitting alone in a crowded restaurant on a Friday night.
I didn’t have a phone to prevent me from making accidental eye contact with a stranger.
I didn’t have a phone to Instagram my meal with, or check in on Yelp with.
And in that moment, I was grateful. I realized why my phone broke down during my trip and not before. The universe needed to show me that until now I was merely visiting these cities, I wasn’t really seeing them.
This was the beginning of a change in me that has lasted to this day.
When I Skyped with my parents the next day and told them about my dinner experience, I noticed my mom remove her glasses to wipe her tears. And then I kept talking to cover up the fact that I was crying, too.
During dinner, my five senses became a living canvas upon which the universe painted the masterpiece of this night…and every night that would follow from this day forth. Because I finally understood what I had been missing this whole time.
As I sipped my sangria, my ears picked up the clanging of distant church bells, the clacking of women’s heels on the cobblestone streets, to the guitarist whose distant tune sounded a hell of a lot like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”…
…which caused me to follow the music after dinner and find him playing in the plaza behind Barcelona Cathedral, to a small audience huddled along the cathedral stairs.
I would’ve missed it all.
Listen. Look around. Make eye contact. Talk to strangers. Smile at them, even.
Feel awkward and embrace it. Get lost. Ask for directions.
Live. Because no other moment exists except the one that is happening right now.