Friday, August 22, 2014
"Here, mother. Sit here," my father said, pointing to a wooden chair he had placed a few feet from the extra large television screen. Grandmother lowered herself onto its wicker seat. This close, even her ninety-one-year old eyes could see my brother, Johnathan, half a world away in the Middle East.
She drew out the syllables of his name in sing-song familiarity. "Hi, John-a-than." Her smile broadened to see his almost life-sized visage in desert fatigues.
"I don't know how to do this," she chuckled nervously.
"You just talk," my mother said in the background. "He can see you."
Grandmother has never been one to keep up with modern technology. She doesn't have an email account, a cell phone, or a GPS; I don't think she even knows how to run a DVD player. Long after I was married, she still had a beige rotary dial phone by her bed (and probably still would, had the telephone company not made her swap to a more modern device).
But technologically savvy or not, there she sat in the stiff upright chair, proper as ever, Skyping with my brother. While the rest of our family sat around the room and quietly chatted, Grandmother sat perfectly focused, a loving intimacy in their conversation. She would ask a question and Johnathan would answer. Back and forth they talked as if there were no miles separating them, as if he were back home just sitting on the sofa in her living room with a cup of coffee.
Unlike the two weeks prior when we had Skyped him, this time, Johnathan's eyes were bright with happiness, his smile not dampened by exhaustion, illness, or stress from the nearly intolerable heat. It was obvious how heart-filling it was for him to see her, too.
"How are you liking the ship?" she asked.
My mother spoke up. "He's not on the ship, mother. He's in a tent."
Grandmother leaned in close and squinted at the screen, trying to look behind Johnathan to get a better view of this white, mega tent he was calling home for a short time.
Daddy turned the volume up louder. Still, I'm not sure how much she actually heard. It didn't matter, though. What was important was for her to see her grandson's face, to at least hear his voice and know he was safe...somewhere she had never been nor would ever go in this lifetime.
At the end of their conversation, Grandmother spoke her love over him. "I've been praying for you.....It's good to see you, but it's just not the same," she laughed aloud, hands stretching out silly in front of her towards the screen. "I just want to reach out and grab you."
This isn't the first time our family has felt those same words. Shortly after the turn of the new millennium, my brother went on his first tour of Iraq. Back then, he sent home a few handwritten letters and called a handful of times, but the majority of his deployment, my family and I were left with only the silence of wondering how he was doing that day, week, or month. And even when he did call, the conversations were always exceedingly short and mostly one-sided.
When Johnathan deployed this second time aboard the U.S.S. Bataan for destinations unknown in the Middle East, I dreaded the same silence, especially since this time, he had a wife waiting for him back home.
I forgot how far we have come where technology is concerned--just in a single decade. I forgot the blessing that technology can be.
His wife has been able to text him daily; I can send an email at bedtime and have a response from him by the time I wake up. But, best of all, my parents and I have been able to Skype with Johnathan throughout the month of August . Each time, we have drunk the sight of him in as a healing elixir to our hearts. Even across an ocean, we heard how congested and sick he was that first Sunday, then a little better the next. When he reached up to play with the kids through the screen, we zeroed in on the thick callouses at the base of each finger, wondering what tales we would hear once he was back home.
Our family is in the final stretch of this nine-month deployment, and I'm starting to get itchy for him to plant two feet on American soil again. Even so, I am grateful for the technology I take for granted on a daily basis.
The world isn't quite so big anymore. A grandmother and a grandson having a Sunday afternoon chat--no matter how many oceans are between them, love can always reach that far.
at 9:50 PM