We've perfected traveling through time and space without leaving our seats. Sitting side-by-side, our molecules are close to one another, but we're miles and galaxies away. It's always been that way, but back then we called it imagination.
Imagination now lives in the programmed world of back-seat DVD players so every passenger, usually nattering kids, can be strapped in front of a small screen that will keep him occupied.
Now, I can't say I have overly fond memories of the Garrecht family loaded into the dark-brown Ford Fairmont and driving at 55 miles per hour (or less) from our St. Louis home to locales zillions of hours away. We drove thousands of miles with the windows rolled down because our luxury cruiser had no air conditioning, but it did boast vinyl seats. If the car stopped too quickly my brother and I slid right off.
(And if you saw a kid trying to be invisible behind a barrel on the side of an Ohio freeway during the summer in the late 1970s, that was me. Word to the wise: Go to the bathroom when you're at the rest stop, even if you don't think you have to. Because you will.)
We've all had times when being somewhere else would have been glorious. For big stuff, like surgery and GRE tests, and for little stuff, like any line that requires you to "take a number."
But there is value in being where you are. Those cross-country journeys gave us plenty of time to use our imaginations. To look out the window and count Stuckey's signs. To giggle when Dad would point to a field and say "Look, a herd of hay!" To wonder what lived in the dark, dark woods of Pennsylvania and marvel at driving through clouds in West Virginia.
Anyone who has sat through public meetings knows the ache to be somewhere else. The mind wanders. It's important to be there, yes, and I heartily enjoy the call to the audience, when anyone can address their elected officials. There's a theater to it that is exhilarating in a mundane way - and that makes it mesmerizing.
In my time at the Star I've spent approximately 14,823,304,904 hours covering government at work - city council, town councils, school boards, county supervisors, planning and zoning boards, court hearings, board of regents.
Do this job long enough and you develop a magical ability to listen to what's going on and take notes, while another part of your brain takes a break to think, "Why am I here at 11 p.m. on a Wednesday night?" And to wonder why men wear shorts with black socks pulled to their knees.
Which brings me to a particular evening in Oro Valley. This was before smartphones, so there was no instant distraction from reality during Town Council meetings. As council members discussed some pressing matter, a cockroach skittered across the floor. The roach, one of those big suckers, was cruising the floor, up to the council dais, over to the speaker's lectern.
I looked away for a moment. Looked back for the roach. Couldn't find it. Oh well. Back to reality.
Why is my tummy itchy? That's kind of tickly. (I'm used to having random pins-and-needles because I have MS and sometimes nerves just go bonkers.)
But this wasn't that.
OH MY GOD THE ROACH CRAWLED UP MY PANTS. THE ROACH IS UNDER MY SHIRT.
I stood up, pluffed out my shirt and tried not to give the audience - or council - a show. Did a little disco dance. The mayor glanced over.
The roach fell to the ground and zipped off.
I sat down. Picked up my notebook and continued as if nothing had happened. I learned that technique in grade school when my skirt fell off at a piano recital.
The moments where we'd rather be somewhere else, anywhere else, are the moments that last. They're the instants that jolt us back to the world, that force us to live where we stand.
Just as there are moments in time we go back to again and again because they're so sweet, so reassuring, so alive that their memory summons tears in an instant, there are moments we'd rather not relive. But there they are. And they have something to say.
These moments tell us that always trying to be somewhere else is a losing proposition. We'll create our existence out of tiny screens, pointing our recorders at real life to capture the moment. But the moment, the pinpoint in time where something mattered, will be lost.
We each have moments, split seconds even, when a connection was made. It may fade or never happen again, but it was there and it was real. An idea. A spark. A bubble in time that exists intact.
Because all we have in life is a moment.
Sarah Garrecht Gassen writes opinion for the Arizona Daily Star. Her column appears Thursdays. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org