We live in a world where we connect and engage by texting, facebook, face time, tweets, blogs, e-mail, smart phones and we are empowered in all things technological. We might feel empowered, and connected but sometimes we’re not. Especially when it comes to family. Sometimes, we really live in an artificial, communication world.
Last weekend in Hamilton Missouri, the town celebrated the 50th anniversary of Northwest Missouri’s Gas & Steam Engine show. My wife’s grandparents on both sides were the founding fathers of the show. My wife’s family on both sides, and my father in law, were being honored. That, coupled with two family reunions, became my destiny. At first, I wasn’t interested in going because I’m busy running a company, the travel seemed overwhelming, but this was a big deal to my wife.
My father-in- law, has been in a nursing home for a while now and never complains about anything. Probably the nicest person I’ve ever met.His wife, my mother-in-law is in the same home, has severe Alzheimers and unfortunately, wouldn’t be attending. Knowing that my wife’s parents were aging in their later years, with fragile health and wanting to support my wife, I went.
Mr. big time, ad guy, who’s created ads for American Idol, Toby Keith and Ford, who lives in a communication world creating awareness, connecting, engaging, and making impressions. I packed my bags, and drove 13 long hours to Missouri. In a town of approx. 1,700 people and 1.4 square miles, life took on new meaning in the town where the founder of J.C. Penny was born.
A long dusty road gave way to a large field, brimming with hundreds of steam engines, puffing smoke, cutting wood, making steam, powering tractors of all shapes and sizes over 100 years old- a place where I’d spend 2 days with families gathered, grandparents, aunts, uncles, in- laws, nieces, cousins, 2nd cousins and kids.Friday evening, we rode on a flat bed truck, sitting on hay bales, wearing matching shirts, in a parade honoring my wife’s families. Families cheered us on, clapped as names were announced, and kids ran for candy. On Saturday, there was simple food, real people, where everyone contributed something- sandwiches, salads, beans, veggies, chips, and desserts and lots of love- and they showed it, with a smile, a handshake, a hug, a few pictures, but it didn’t get posted on facebook.
No one was tethered to a smart phone, no texting, facebook – just real people, talking in real time, catching up, reminiscing, laughing, telling stories. The only thing that mattered was that I was family and I was related to them through my wife who they hadn’t seen in years. I watched a tractor pull for hours- Brenda’s Uncle Charlie Moss came in 1st place going 262’ 10” in the 2,500 weight class. I had a lemon shake and it never tasted so good. I drove a steam engine tractor. A 1917 Rumley with no brakes, cast iron wheels, and 1 gear around the large field, and even parked it perfectly.
My father-in-law is legally blind with macular degeneration, but while driving on miles of hilly country roads, he knew every home, a mile apart from one another, the stories of the people who lived there, where he met his wife 65 years ago, were he grew up, where he went to school, and he knew exactly where Tom’s creek would show up on our drive-and it did. He gave new meaning to GPS- his was built in with life’s experiences.
We casually use the phrase “Get Real.” At the end of 2 days, I witnessed that come to life. It reminded me of the importance of real awareness, real face time, real engagement, where blogging meant a clogged fuel line, tweeting was a sound that a bird makes, public speaking was done without trying to convince anyone to buy something or do anything and a smart phone was no phone at all. As I drove the 742 miles home, with each mile slowly transitioning into the world I live in, I pondered that sometimes, real advancement means stopping and taking a step back. Real communication and engagement is one-on-one and personal.
I made a commitment to un-plug more often, to really engage more with loved ones and toget real, once again. I’d encourage all of you to do the same in your way. Maybe tuck your phone away during lunch with family or a friend, at your next meeting or while watching a movie with a loved one. And if the opportunity ever comes your way, even drive a tractor, at least once.