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Driving to work, lost in thought, I found myself recently in an all too familiar place: deeply depressed.

No meaningful conversation with my wife in days, the tension and space between us growing palpably by the hour. Our evenings reduced to staring at the TV news feed, the endless Trump updates and societal angst. My wife retreating to her iPad and I to our home office to read or contemplate. My teenage daughter escaping at the earliest opportunity to her room, to an online universe wholly foreign to me, where everyone’s lives are carefully presented to the world to be either validated or mocked depending on the social winds. I feel empty inside.

We have everything, yet I cannot recall the last time I felt true joy.

We busy ourselves with moving into our new house: painting, refurnishing, unpacking. We plan our family activities, momentary distractions that bring fleeting smiles to our faces. We take anti-depressants and talk it out with counselors. Absurdly blessed on the surface, but struggling mightily on the inside every day to unlock the mystery of our persistent sadness.

I remain mentally checked out of my commute as a memory flashes through my mind. Twenty-one years young and two months from college graduation, I finally met the girl. How it was so obvious to me so quickly, I’ll never know. What I remember most about that week was how light my heart felt, how clear everything seemed, the surprising capacity my heart had for happiness. Looking back on it, I recognize it was the first time the spirit of real love had swept into me. The second time it happened, when my daughter was born, it felt more like a tsunami, completely barreling through and over me, tossing me upside down, leaving me forever changed.

It’s funny how a feeling so big can leak out slowly, almost imperceptibly over time.

Expectations and disappointments, setbacks and health issues accumulate as we age, the resentment slowly building from all of the moments that passed when we needed something loved ones failed to provide. And that personal baggage we all carry from childhood, the weight of things never reconciled right below the surface, always lying in wait to sabotage the next happiness. Underneath a 30-year pile of jagged things, the people we once were remain trapped under that weight, crying out to be set free.

happiness. 

Lately I’ve been considering its true roots. When she’s not paralyzed by that online universe, my daughter provides me the most living example of it. Despite the negativity the toxic adolescent world throws at her, a loving and positive spirit manages to endure and radiate from her most days. That spirit seems holy to me. I choose the word holy to describe it because it

feels laden in a spirit that is conspicuously absent in today’s world: nurturing, empathetic, playful, unselfish, eager to connect, to understand and be understood. Like a crackling campfire, you want to warm yourself against it, stare into it and not leave its hypnotic pull. I feel it’s presence constantly when she’s near, I miss it immediately when she’s away, and I see its reflection in the faces of those who talk about her. I don’t find that in many people. And if I’m honest, I myself don’t reflect it often enough and haven’t for some time.

The bitter irony of this era of 5G connectivity is that technology is actually bringing on an epidemic of human disconnection. 

Young people only know a world where you don’t communicate face to face, and the adults are rapidly following their lead. I’ve had arguments with very learned people about this, and they argue that the efficiencies created by technology remove the unnecessary clutter in our communications and help us get so much more accomplished. If this is so, wouldn’t it follow that all that saved time and attention would then be reinvestible into something truly nurturing and fulfilling? But what’s actually happening is our brains are simply forcing themselves to move faster, process more, “like” more.

We are overrun with data. We text out thousands of acronyms that replace conversation. Kids sit in rooms together with thumbs blazing across their phones. Adults have dinner in restaurants, heads down glued to glowing screens. We don’t listen to a favorite song, but rather access thousands of songs and cycle through them in fast bursts before they complete. Our lives are lived out largely online, clicking through our various virtual relationships.

The social decay is irrefutable. The “inefficiency” removed from our interaction is actually the recipe’s critical binder: the extra seconds we stare at each other awkwardly, the non-verbal cues we give each other that reveal what we really mean, the sometimes difficult discussion paths that inefficient conversations take. The trace amounts of truth in pained faces. The real us that somehow didn’t make our Instagram page. The perfect emoji we cannot find, the one that relates the powerful warmth of that vulnerable, unselfish, truly loving spirit.

loving spirit. 

I keep coming back to loving spirit, and the search for the root of that spirit. Most religions profess one ultimate creator, the only true God, the path to every answer, and to genuine happiness. I am a practicing Catholic, having spent my adult life trying to follow the tenets of the Christian Bible. Testaments and gospels provide me instructional stories (actual or metaphoric a point of endless debate). Prophets and psalms, a great savior, suffering, death and resurrection, an eventual return of the savior, a tribulation and eventually the end of human days, and for the lucky, HEAVEN!

Hebrews and Muslims and Buddhists all have their own stories, prophets and saviors. Every religion has its unique story, its specific rules, the playbook for how to live your life. They’re all different, but share one common denominator.

Capital ‘L’ Love.

The recent epiphany for me was in the hard connection between God and Love. I will deliberately capitalize Love here as I believe these two words in our language should be 100 percent interchangeable. In fact, I prefer the term Love, because it doesn’t carry the connotation of church affiliation that God does. The Christian Bible actually defines Love elaborately. It is patient, kind, does not envy or pump out its chest or dishonor. It is slow to anger and does not keep score. It is trustful, hopeful, protective and most of all, truthful.

As the color white represents the sum of all colors of light, I’m starting to see Love as the sum of all positive energy. When I envision my God, I no longer see a powerful entity upon a throne looking down at me like shaped clay, sending me telepathic messages to do good deeds and not sin. I’ve begun to see God more like a kinetic bundle of love energy, moving into and out of us all. As if this is a bit like pre-programmed software, I see us as entering this world literally built to Love.

To breathe it in, to exhale it out. I believe it is our purpose, in fact it is our primary job: to Love.

In those rare moments when I feel its power taking effect, it fills me as if inhaling pure oxygen. Everyday fears and distractions go on mute and I feel electrifyingly present.

If I’m engaged in solving a problem, the path to the answer appears in front of me like a fully-lit airport runway. If I’m with a loved one, they instantly know without doubt that I love them. I feel secure, free of distraction, and I express exactly what needs to be said, honestly and caringly. My total focus is on the other person, absent of any personal agenda. It doesn’t matter whether the issues around us are easy or difficult, positive or negative, casual or critical; everything that happens feels purposeful.

To address a need, God answers a call. He does that by flowing his spirit into me, which motivates me to engage another person who needs that spirit. And in those times when I need it most, He sends someone else to engage me, to provide me the emotional CPR I desperately need.

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity sought to define in one elegant equation the complete relationship between time and space. While brilliant, I never really understood it because it doesn’t explain the emotional universe people occupy. I recently remembered the miraculous process that we learned about in elementary school science called photosynthesis. To purify our atmosphere, green plants and organisms take in sunlight and carbon dioxide and convert them to breathable oxygen. Their job is to take in the good and the bad in our environment, filter out the unhealthy elements and pump out something nourishing and vital for higher order species to survive. Plants were made to do this. And as that highest order species, I believe we have a critical role in the cycle: to take in all of the good and the bad the world throws at us, every pure loving thought and every toxic, hurtful act. To filter it and reject and dispense with the bad, and to output a pure, loving energy that feeds others.

With every heartbeat, every intake and exhale of breath, we need to do that job. Every moment is an opportunity to take in that mixed bag, clean it up and put out something that will move ourselves and others forward. I believe that this is the entire point of our existence.

The meaning of everything.

The dire state of our planet serves as a metaphor for the declining condition of our collective souls. Earth was designed to last for millions of human lifetimes. Deep in natural resources and temperate in climate, our air, land and sea were once rich in beauty and full of diverse living creatures. But the planet where we were to live out our true purpose is being polluted and stripped of its riches at a disturbingly accelerating rate. Animal species are disappearing and we are killing off the plant life that maintains the critical balance of our precious atmosphere, all in the name of technological progress.

Our souls are a lot like our Earth. Once rich in humanity, our souls are being slowly stripped bare of it in favor of speed, progress, efficiency.

While technology is a powerful tool, its power pales in comparison with the power we have within ourselves.

I’d recently heard a story on NPR of a man who responded to a tweet from a famous comedian who’d recently mocked our president while performing. The man shot back to

the comedian with something personal and awful, an exchange all too typical in our current vitriolic world.

But the comedian decided against launching a hateful internet counterattack and instead researched the individual who had tweeted him with an unexpected surprise. He learned that the gentleman was an ex-military vet who’d recently suffered health problems and financial setbacks. His eventual response filtered out the venom the man had directed at him, and responded with a recognition of his challenges, appreciation for his service, and a donation. That response was re-tweeted to his entire online following, many of whom sent the gentleman additional positive wishes and even more cash. Overwhelmed, the man reported being fundamentally changed by the experience. His inner rage seemed to subside. His health improved. He eventually met the comedian and they built a close friendship.

The truth is that technology enables what is already inside each of us.

If we want to love and support each other, technology is there to facilitate that. If we want to tear each other apart, technology will happily oblige. Now, always and in every human moment, it will be up to us.

When I finally arrived at work that day, everything felt calmer and clearer. I wrote my wife a very long text. In it I recalled our first week together all those years ago. When I got home I hugged her for a long time. When we had more time alone that weekend, and with measurable tension still lingering between us, I spoke to her as that young college boy who’d just met his future wife.

I inhaled deeply and summoned all the love inside me, setting aside every disappointment, broken dream and unfulfilled expectation, and I spoke to her with only Love. And everything in our universe changed.

It’s remarkable how something so simple, powerful and within our grasp, changes everything.

Devin Householder

Devin is passionate about writing, reading and remaining in emotionally harmful relationships with losing sports teams. He suffers quietly (except on Sundays) with his loving wife and daughter in Rhode Island.

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