By Laura Green
The elderly Amish and I have not dissimilar responses to technology. The wheel seems fine, so do its close relatives, the hinge and the crank. Cutlery is okay – I can see the utility of a spoon. I’m deeply conflicted about engines. On the plus side, they get things done faster. On the minus side, they sound like swarms of insects chasing down creatures that are, rightly, panicked. My brain can recognize the utility of an engine, but my nervous system is unconvinced. I can’t accept leaf blowers but, because I like being near you even when you’re far, I will accept cars. My nervous system would really prefer you live close by. I could walk over often on paths littered with leaves.
So this world of virtual connection is alien. The faces (both -book and -time), the twitters and tubes and instas and zooms? My instinct is to dive into a lake. But right now, they’re the only way to get to you. I like you so much, so I’m doing it. Virtual community. Please note my bravery and resilience and dedication. I won’t be kept from my people by something as trivial as my nervous system.
I think my problem starts here: I’m deeply kinesthetic. My work is to touch people. I touch people every day for hours and hours. There’s no technology to my work, nothing translating or encoding our contact. My body understands your body because it’s literally holding it in its hands, which feels right. My nervous system is content.
Would you like a physical metaphor to aid in your fathoming of my metaphysical struggle to fathom virtual community? Yes? I offer you: the invisible porch.
For me, trying to communicate with you virtually is like setting baskets on an invisible porch. I can’t see it, but I know the porch is there beyond this door. And I know you’re there on the porch. I see remnants of you – sometimes tiny pictures. These remnants are very convincing to my brain, but my nervous system is loudly skeptical. I listen to my brain and gather up things to give you. I guess at what you might want or need in the vast emptiness, and place them in baskets. I am poised with my baskets on the threshold of this invisible porch. I open the door and step out into…nothing. Everything vanishes. The door, the porch, the baskets, and me. I can’t see you, just a clear, light, emptiness. I can still feel myself. I have weight, my baskets have weight. I believe in them, and in you and in me, at least my brain does. My nervous system, not so much. I set down the baskets and hang around waving my arms for a while, just in case I might bump into invisible you. I wouldn’t need to see you if I could catch hold of your arm. But it doesn’t happen, so I grope my way back to the door and crawl back into solid matter.
Did I set anything down? Will you take anything? Will you even see the baskets? I don’t know.
I understand that many people love this invisible porch. There are cheerful signs for it everywhere. I’m not exactly scared of the invisible porch, because nobody else seems to be. But I’m disoriented by it. I’m amazed that you all can act so calm when you’re on the invisible porch. Can you see it? Is it not invisible for you? I am flummoxed.
Regardless, I have to keep going to this invisible porch if I’m going to keep knowing you, and I’m going to keep knowing you, so best to settle in and learn what I have to learn to love it here. And here, I think, is what I have to learn: I have to learn to find my satisfaction when I set the baskets down.
Normally when I give you things, I get something back in return right away. I feel knots loosen and I am instantly rewarded. I give and get back in a quick, tight, loop. But now I don’t get to feel you take things from me. I don’t even get to watch you sort through the baskets I’ve set out. Sometimes you send me an email and tell me you chose a thing, and I feel so happy. For the most part, though, I have to set the invisible baskets down with my invisible hands on the invisible porch and walk away. Satisfied just to have offered something blindly. It feels incomplete.
But somehow it also feels more complete. The invisible me on that porch bends and sets down my basket. I scurry back into my house quickly, but with a feeling of triumph. I don’t know who I am out there – what I look like to you. I’m just something that sets something down. I don’t know who will come and I don’t know what will be picked up. But I’ll go out again and again. And I think this is faith. I think this is me learning faith.
I’m glad to be learning it with you.