I grew up in the midwestern suburbs. I was the youngest of six children and my father worked in industrial sales. When my dad wasn’t traveling to cities like DeMoines, Iowa, he would return home from the city at about 6pm and shortly thereafter the eight of us would gather in the dining room for a formal dinner. In the image below you’ll notice that all eight of us are pictured. A photographer had come from the Wheaton Daily News that night to capture a shot of my mother, who that year had won the honor of being named “Mother of the Year.”
When I remember these family dinners I’m reminded, a little bit, of church. We each had our place at the table much like parishioners sit in the same place at church every Sunday. We abided by pretty strict standards of behavior (we called them manners). We were never allowed to answer the phone if it happened to ring (as hard as that was), we were never allowed to leave the table until we were dismissed and by we began every dinner with the “Collect” that marked the beginning of each family meal: “Bless us O Lord for these thy gifts which we are about to receive through the bounty of Christ our Lord, Amen.” It all reminds me of Norman Rockwell’s classic painting Freedom From Want.
Last week I saw a You Tube Video of a bit by comedian Sebastian Maniscalco. The video is part of an act Maniscalco calls “What is Wrong with People?” It’s a very funny piece and watching it compelled me to remember the more idyllic moments of my childhood. My parents drank Folgers, not Sanka, but we always had Entemann’s on hand! My favorite were the crumb topped doughnuts! Sadly, however, I was alarmed at what it means that I can relate so well to what Maniscalco parodies in the piece – that moment when the doorbell rings these days…
When posting Maniscalco’s video I noticed that it has nearly one million views. Apparently I’m not the only one that can relate. It makes me wonder what has changed. Is an abnormal fear of the doorbell ring the result of being available,”24-7,” as they say, via e-mail, cell phone, text? Often times when someone is trying to reach me (and vice versa), an e-mail is followed by a phone call and then a text message. When I worked with college students as a chaplain – which is years ago now – I realized that students wouldn’t answer their phones but would respond immediately to a text message. In my own family over the last decade or so I’ve noticed a shift from individual telephone conversations on holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving to group texts and e-mails. In the age of constant availability, it seems, privacy has become a priority if not a necessity. Even among loved ones. At what cost, I wonder?