“Point and Click”

I recently entered a brave new world, not feet first, but fingers first. They were resting on my computer keyboard and they were trembling terribly. I was about to push the button that would delete my Uncle Bob’s name and address from my e-mail list. Yet as accustomed as I had become to this new point and click universe, I knew that this was going to require more than a simple tap of my index finger on a plastic mouse.

Just days earlier I had stared down at Bob’s gaunt face and his chapped fingers clasping rosary beads, as he lay lifeless in a casket. I had considered death and its swift severance. I had considered life’s lost opportunities, and I guess I saw the end of Bob’s life as one of these, for he was my godfather and I barely knew him. I knew of him – he was the stoic guy who, I was told, had a sharp wit and didn’t suffer fools patiently – but I didn’t know him. For the most part he was one of the grown-ups who sat at the big people’s table at holiday gatherings. And because he didn’t often engage in the bombastic dinner table debates, which echoed over our heads at the kids’ table, I assumed that meant he had little to offer. Of course, that perception was off by a long shot, but during those formative years when aunts and uncles forge reputations in pre-adolescent minds, that was the rap that stuck. His lasting legacy for me now – his remaining essence – is the gift of his children, my cousins and friends. I’d race to them whenever we’d visit, jutting past Uncle Bob, to gab and gossip and get the latest jokes. They were warm and wise and wonderful. They were the Bob I didn’t really know, for it was he who shaped them – all seven of them. The physician, the musician, the meteorologist, the mother. What I glean from them now I glean from Bob. He clearly had an impact on his children, on others, and on this world. And I somehow missed it. I had passively chosen not to drink of that font. I had arrived at that library after closing time.

So, as I stared at my computer terminal ready to … well… to delete Uncle Bob, I realized that pushing that button was like placing a seal on a record of my failings. I failed to get to know him and, in doing so, failed to know my family. I failed to make good use of my time with him. I failed to, as Thoreau put it, “suck the marrow out of life,” by not availing myself of the riches that were a godfather’s wisdom and experience.

Well, lesson learned. Today I sit at my computer ready to push more buttons. I’m going to e-mail my web-connected cousins and aunts and uncles, my mother and my cyber siblings, with a modest proposal. I’m going to encourage us to share our family stories with each other on-line. Since so much of our sense of family is fueled by our stories, our history, the experiences that have shaped us individually and collectively, it seems fitting that we utilize this e-mail thing and all its gap-bridging technology to prevent geographic and generational barriers from distancing us any further. It might even make me feel like a little bit less of a familial failure.

And there is one thing I know about Uncle Bob, which makes me think he’d give this his blessing – he was a computer guy.