I used to brush my teeth first. But these days, the first thing I do after I get up in the morning is to check in; to connect electronically to the world outside my bedroom.
Yesterday was different. I always start Sundays reading the New York Times. The paper version. And then I connect.
But this time, before connecting, I went off to a lazy lunch out in Carmel Valley with friends. It felt like being on vacation in France or Italy. Rustic setting. Relaxed atmosphere. Al fresco dining. Amazing food.
An iPhone would be hopelessly out of place in this setting. Immersed in the moment, I never even thought of looking at it.
But as we left the restaurant and headed to the car, I started to feel the pull.
The pull of the invisible cord that connects me— to people, to the world, to the internet. To everything outside this idyllic day in this idyllic setting. I was driving, so I figured I’d quickly check in when we got back to our friends’ home.
But that changed, after we made a quick detour.
Down a quiet country lane in Carmel Valley, behind a white fence in a grassy field, surrounded only by a few trees on his ranch, we saw a man standing all alone.
There was no sign that this man had a thing on his mind on this beautiful day—other than the sprinkler system he seemed to be working on. There was no indication he might be aware of the situation in Libya. Or that he bore responsibility for the millions of Americans in uniform all over the globe.
The man was Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense—a talented, capable, highly regarded and respected man who has served our country for decades, who currently carries the weight of our national security on his shoulders.
I don’t know how often he comes from Washington to his home in Carmel Valley. At that moment we saw him, he was just a man on his ranch, disconnected.
I mean this in the most positive sense.
I’ve always believed in the value; really, the necessity; for people who bear heavy responsibilities, to disconnect. I think our leaders probably function better if they can temporarily escape the weight of office. Although some take this to heart more than others (hint: that other Texan before everyone was talking about Rick Perry).
Seeing Panetta, I slowed down to capture the moment; until I noticed the security detail parked in a car nearby, who waved at us to keep driving.
So instead of taking Panetta’s picture, I took his example to heart.
I spent the rest of the day at our friends’ house, totally disconnected. I didn’t even sneak a peek at my phone. Or squeeze in a game of Words with Friends when I went to the bathroom.
It was like magic–one of the most blissful days I’ve had in a long time.
It’s not that I don’t love connection. My whole life is practically built on it. But I also appreciate balance.
And whenever I disconnect, I always think the same thing: that I should do this more often. That we all should.
Back in the day, the catchphrase used to be: “Tune in, Turn on, drop out.”
My experience yesterday inspired a more contemporary catchphrase: “Tune out, Turn off, drop in.”