Mnmnmnmn… The harsh metallic vibrating sound of the dial tone announces unmistakably that I’ve been abruptly disconnected. My seemingly important telephone communication has been terminated. My private conversation has been interrupted. Frustration usually follows when we realize that we’ve been cut off, deliberately or accidentally.
A similar frustration can build up when there is no response to an urgent voice mail message or no immediate reply to a critical e-mail message. In our demanding modern lives we have no other choice but to make contact with others in attempting to handle our jobs, our social commitments, and our numerous personal relationships. Any minor interference in making the necessary connections with other human beings causes us to wonder what’s causing the connection problem.
There are two basic kinds of disconnects: mental and physical, but many ways of disconnecting. And there are times when disconnecting cannot be avoided, only accepted. Some of these times we are prepared for, and some we aren’t, nor can be. Our childhood disconnects are our departure from home for pre-school or kindergarten, our graduation from high school, then college, and finally our fond farewell to the family homestead.
Job transfers to new locations, losses of jobs, divorces from spouses, deaths in the family, and if we are lucky our retirement are the disconnects of our adult years. These major changes in our lives yank us out of our nurturing soil, expose our tender roots, and challenge our future growth potential.
Each of these traumatic events triggers some mental disorientation. Or as educators would say, provides us with a fresh impetus for a new orientation. All physical changes of environment create a concomitant mental disruption. This might be less of a problem today with the availability of cell phones, cheaper long distance phone calls, and the advent of e-mail, but the mental challenge is still significant.
We encounter cultural differences between city and rural communities, attitudinal shifts in the different sections of this diverse country, and the growing influence of the immigrant groups within our society. These force us to reeducate ourselves, if we can, in order to adopt to the new circumstances. Regardless of our earnest efforts to adapt, there is always a feeling of being disconnected from former friends and family, and from familiar customs and habits.
Having experienced all of the jolting, disturbing disconnects associated with meandering from the cradle to retirement, I feel somehow out of touch with the rest of my cell mates who are locked inside Earth’s biosphere with me. Most of these are still pursuing occupations to keep their creditors at bay or spending their savings and pensions trying to do exciting things during their retirement with reduced physical capabilities. All are distracted by the terrorist and health threats that our government and its loyal media experts are duly warning us about. In the meantime, we must accept the “exigencies” of the new military situation and help preserve this nation for a future we’ll never live to enjoy!
Disconnects exist everywhere: in politics between parties, in society between races, genders, and generations, and in similar cultures between opinions, religious beliefs, and philosophies. The more severe the difference between two human connectors, the wider seems to be the abyss to be bridged. For example, we know how difficult the integration of immigrants has always been in this country of mainly immigrants. Differences in languages, customs, objectives, and financial means don’t seem to discourage many foreigners from making the decision to abandon their prior lives and join the quest for an uncertain, but more promising future. Even when prohibited by anti-immigration laws, the politically oppressed, the poor, and the ambitious living abroad want a chance to try to fit in here. They innocently long for the opportunity to walk the rope bridge to freedom and become the most recent generation of disconnected aliens!
“Good luck and good riddance,” were the attitudes of the elite I met in Europe and Latin America who remain behind. “Less competition, less unemployment, and less over-population for us,” they think. In the U.S. we put out a stern message: “You’re not really welcome. Remember, we only accept dollars in America. If you need money and work, get in line for the low income jobs on our farms, in our service industries, at our gas stations, in our “fast food” joints, and in our retail locations. Learn English ASAP!”
Our patience is short, our indulgence limited, and our sincerity mostly superficial. But don’t blame us for our lack of genuine warmth, we didn’t ask outsiders to come here and complicate our lives and indirectly increase our taxes!
Sooner or later, all of us become disconnected from our “security blankets,” from our familiar surroundings, and from our past. We join other groups, companies, organizations, and families – or we make our own. We become accustomed to the new environment, or we don’t. We spend our lives trying to reconnect ourselves every time we have to “move on.” As successful as this reconnect might appear to strangers, most of us still feel somewhat disconnected.
Long term friendships aren’t easily replaced. Childhood excitement and experiences cannot be duplicated between grown-ups later in life. Tales of past trials and escapades mean little to those who were not involved. Triumphs are less vivid and almost meaningless to those who did not participate. A new spouse could care less about the details of a prior relationship with any ex-spouse.
Destruction usually leads to construction where there is hope and ambition. Still, not all the destructive disconnections in our lives stimulate us to pick up the pieces and move ahead. The remnants of our past are like weak magnetic fields tugging at our minds, distracting us from accepting the good available in our new experiences, and calling us back to times when things were simpler and possibly better. Our memories filter out the ugliness, the turmoil, the struggles of the past, and usually leave us with an attachment to a few pleasant moments shared with those who have changed or gone on. Inside our heads a voice echoing what we have learned over the years whispers, “You can’t go back again. Everything has been altered beyond recognition!”
So, what can we do to eliminate this peculiar feeling of being disconnected from the people we have abandoned and the life that we have left behind? A life that probably no longer exists? Most of us occupy our time with new projects, commitments, and routine busy work that keeps our minds full of minutiae and problems that require our immediate attention. We let our curiosity lead us in unexplored directions, where we can break new ground, seek out new friends, and build new relationships. Being active allows us little time to contemplate the past and to dwell on the missing ingredients of our former lives. We find that these new challenges and obligations replace the old ones and crowd out of our minds the thoughts that cause the feeling of being disconnected.
The emotional shock of being disconnected is one we desperately want to avoid, if we can. However, the prospects for disconnecting are more likely today due to our modern mobility. This accelerated mobility is caused by the greater number of divorces and the more volatile fluctuation of markets that forces management to revise their organization charts and to dictate lay-offs. Overcoming the stress related to these more common occurrences or minimizing their emotional impact is made more difficult as we disperse ourselves farther and farther away from our family ties and close childhood friends.
As more and more families are comprised of two wage earners in order to provide the income necessary to support our modern life style, the likelihood of more disconnections increases. Lifetime employment in one company is not anticipated any longer in America. Divorce is a generally accepted option today for a dysfunctional family relationship. Splitting up families with children is not considered the horrible solution it used to be. Seeking happiness in a more pleasant climate, moving to obtain a better job, and separating to eliminate distress in a marriage are perfectly acceptable reasons to create disconnects today. Concern about the consequences is minimal, and the promise of a more fulfilling life covers up the projected short term discomfort of the transition.
The lingering effect of each new disconnection adds to the latent trauma caused by prior separations. Although our reluctance tends to prevent us from hastily establishing brand new personal relationships and commitments, we can pick up the phone again and redial. If there is no answer, we can leave a voice message. If we happen to be connected through the Internet, we can send a longer e-mail message.
Networking this way helps us to stay connected with our past and our dear friends. It enables us to shed those feelings of being disconnected for awhile, even if we can’t banish those feelings forever. Divorced parents can build harmonious extended families. All of us can go out into the neighborhood and knock on doors and introduce ourselves. Certainly those neighbors concealed behind their front doors have been disconnected before and know the feeling of being the “new person on the block.”
Whatever you do when you experience a disconnection, don’t just hang up the receiver and curse your fate.