We all have favorite moments in favorite films. One of mine is in Robert Redford’s Ordinary People based on Judith Guest’s novel of the same name with a brilliant (and I mean brilliant!) screenplay by Alvin Sargent.
Donald Sutherland, as Calvin Jarrett is at a party with his wife, Beth (Mary Tyler Moore) and many of their close friends. There are the typical gracious and gratuitous greetings between friends … but then one man, who we have not seen before and will never see again, comes up to Donald Sutherland and says, “I just want you to know that I am not talking to you,” and then he moves on – disappears into the crowd.
This moment has stayed with me for the past 30+ years (ever since I first saw the movie back in the 1980s). It was (and is) a moment of such startling honesty and directness and authenticity. I also think that it is a moment I revere and cherish, wishing I could be that direct and honest. Even today, after all these years, it is difficult for me to express exactly how I feel to anyone … at any time. I’m working on it.
There’s also something else about this statement, “I just want you to know that I am not talking to you”, that is both humorous and disturbing. The man is violating his own position by making the statement. And he is intentionally provoking the man (Calvin, Donald Sutherland) which means he probably does want to have that conversation. Or, this entire line is the totality of the conversation he wants to have and now he is done, feeling heard and vindicated.
So when my good friend, Lisa, told me via Skype today that in order to protect her private time she will simple tell people, “I’m in Airplane Mode with you.” Airplane Mode is great, especially if you’re on an airplance and want to continue to use your smart phone for internet connections or music or other functions. And I use it all the time when I am overseas because I don’t use my iPhone as a phone here, more like a small iPad. So, no phone connections. But to use it as a device to protect yourself from incoming calls or the temptation to make outgoing calls … now, this is new to me. Interesting choice. Sort of like saying, “I’m not talking to you” without having to really say it.
Which brings me to the real crux of the matter. (Don’t you love that word, ‘crux’? I think we should all use that word more often.) The crux of the matter is privacy, isolation, protecting your time with yourself. Allowing yourself to be alone. Amelia Earhart said, “Being alone is scary, but not as scary as feeling alone in a relationship.” Wow. Airplane Mode. I need to be alone with myself, by myself, for myself. Sometimes we forget that this is the most important relationship we will ever have in our lives. And the longest. And the most challenging and difficult and demanding and confusing and fulfilling and nurturing. So why do we so often avoid it?
So, today, DAY FOURTEEN, I’m in Airplane Mode. I am having one of those days I that cherish so much. A Mark day. No need, desire or obligation to connect with another person in any way. Perfect.