The air is thinner up here at thirty-eight thousand feet above sea level. There are less air molecules colliding with each other, fewer distractions clouding my mind. That allows me to contemplate the tangled web of thoughts racing through my consciousness at the present moment. The private jet that has shuttled me thousands of miles across the country for client visits is carrying me on a different type of journey on this particular occasion.
Weddings and funerals – unfortunately, it is most often these two circumstances that bring families together in one location. I find myself chasing the sun westward across the Great Plains after attending the less joyous of these two – the funeral of my grandmother. My husband and four year old daughter are waiting for me at home. She is too young to understand why her beloved Mimsy won’t be visiting anymore. We have spared her the complicated explanation at this point in her precious life.
We are able to cross the span of our continent in a mere five hours. Technology has allowed us to travel at breakneck speed from place to place, often without realizing just how close we come to breaking our metaphorical neck. I am the sole occupant in this cylindrical cabin, but I look around anyway to be sure. The twin aircraft engines provide a backdrop of droning white noise. The puffy cumulus clouds drifting by with each passing minute settle my overactive mind and allow me to slip ten hours into the past. Seated at my grandmother’s kitchen table, I am doing my best to come to terms with the finality of this situation. My mind begins to wander.
There is no digital clock on the gas stovetop range, just an analog face with three hands rotating around the twelve numbers at different speeds. It dawns on me just how far technology has brought us in the past fifty years, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. When I think about what was present in my mother’s childhood days in this very same kitchen, it is a small miracle that I even understand how to use this strange contraption with knobs that when turned cause a clicking noise followed by the appearance of a blue flame used for cooking.
And it doesn’t stop at the range and oven. The microwave in our own kitchen would look completely foreign to my grandmother. It had not even been invented when she was raising my mom. When I think about how often we use these forms of electromagnetic radiation to cook or heat our food (that would be on a daily basis), my daughter would wonder how in the world we could possibly live without one. Alas, it is possible. Even one generation back, I can remember using an oven – gasp – to reheat our pizza. And we actually cooked corn in a stovetop pot. Sure, it took ten minutes instead of ninety seconds. But, the corn still got cooked. It makes me wonder sometimes whether the desire to do everything – and I mean everything – quicker, faster, and more efficiently has jaded our appreciation of that thing we are doing. We are talking about a lot more than just cooking here, mind you.
Sure, other fashionable things have changed about the appearance of kitchens over the years. The linoleum floors have been replaced by Italian style tile. The diner like booth that my mom sat at has been replaced by a traditional table and chairs. The large kitchens for cooking and convening have come and gone and come yet again. Ironically, the farmhouse style sinks and faucets have come into style again, as a retro look.
The myriad of electronic devices that line the counters today – mixer, can opener, coffee machine, and toaster oven – were all created through technological advancements over the last two generations of humanity. Before that time, there were only hand tools and the trusty gas oven and range that performed a lion’s share of the work.
However, perhaps the biggest thing of all that has changed in the kitchen over the last fifty years has nothing to do with technology, or maybe everything to do with technology. The likelihood that a family will cook together in the kitchen, or eat a meal together at the table is predictably low. It is too easy to whip up a quick meal in the microwave or toaster oven. We have too many other important obligations – appointments, soccer practices, ballet recitals, baseball games, and Pilate classes – to have the time to sit down for a meal with the other members of our family that we love more than anything in the world.
For some reason, we view these other obligations as paramount to the thirty minutes we could be spending with our family at the dinner table. Instead, we talk on our cell phones if we’re lucky. More often, we text or post status feeds on social media sites so those people we call family know what we’re doing and where we are. I wonder what would happen if we were to toss out our electronic devices for a day – or dare I even suggest – a week. What if we sat down every evening at the dinner table and just talked? It has become a lost art. Just to be able to look into your daughter’s eyes and say “How was your day?” could mean a tremendous amount, not only to you, but for her also. I guess you could say I am old school, wanting to turn the clock back fifty years. Maybe it’s overkill to suggest such a preposterous idea. But what if it’s not such a crazy thought? What if that’s exactly what society needs to become less like the machines we are utilizing on a daily basis and more like the human beings with feelings and emotions that we were meant to be? It seems to me that it is a choice that we can’t afford not to at least try.
As I sense an odd bump originating from the belly of the plane, I recheck my seat belt. We must be experiencing some unexpected turbulence over the mountains. Looking out the window, I see that the cumulus clouds have been replaced by an airport terminal with planes taxiing to and fro. We have landed. We have returned to the chaos of life at sea level. The time spent above this all has provided me with a fresh perspective. As we pull into our assigned parking spot, the cabin door opens and I descend the steps. Waiting behind the glass window with smiles on their faces are my husband and daughter. The air smells fresher and the setting sun feels warmer than it should be. The cool breeze pushing from behind urges me to arrive at those smiling faces without delay. As I drop my bag on the tarmac and break into a sprint, I reach the outstretched arms of my family – welcoming me home – in more than one way.