Life ‘In’ The Big Screen

Who knew a big screen TV would become a portal for connecting with major life events? In a world where COVID-19 prevents family and friends from gathering face-to-face, we are left to rely on monitors to make meaningful connections.

Two years ago, my son went Black Friday shopping for a new TV. I’m not a fan of fighting the herds on Black Friday, and so I gave him the simple instruction to pick out a quality unit for a modest amount of money. Suffice it to say, it’s been a while since I’ve purchased a TV and apparently you can now get a lot more bang for your buck.

About an hour into shopping, he gave me a call with great excitement that he’d made the purchase. I then received a picture of an oversized box laid across the back of our SUV. I should mention that the seats were down in order to give it enough room to fit. He should have mentioned that this goggle-box was 70 inches. I expected he’d find a small to a medium-sized unit with internet capabilities.

The TV is a good one, and internet capabilities are included. However, the screen is large. In my opinion, too huge. Yes, I agree…first-world problems, however, it was a stressor albeit comical. Will it fit into my living room? Will it look obnoxious against the wall? Why would I need that much screen? I then toggled over the next two months on whether to return it or keep it. It wasn’t until I finally took it out of the box and got a good look at it that I decided it was fine.

Today I’m grateful, as it’s become my window to the outside world. While I take comfort that my family and friends are healthy and practicing social distancing; I have tremendous heartache as I participate in so many rites of passage through a portal.

What rites have passed? Graduation for starters. A very small group gathered in my living room to watch my son’s high school’s pre-taped broadcast of graduation. A variety of administrators and students spoke, and, in the end, each student’s graduating achievement was marked when their name was read, and their photo appeared on the screen. No pomp. No circumstance. Just a high-definition image of my son. His diploma arrived in the mail a few weeks after the YouTube air date.

A funeral sadly made the list. Mid-summer, my dear aunt who lived in Denver passed away. Flying out for the funeral was out of the question. Congregated in my living room to livestream the funeral was a similar small group that gathered to view graduation. My Dad arrived dressed in a suit and tie, as that is what he would have worn to the service.

Later that evening, we logged into the Zoom-cast for Shiva and shared memories with family and friends from across the country. Sharing that moment was special. Yet, it was also so odd, so detached. Absent was the ability to give a hug or pass a box of Kleenex to catch a tear.

Just as lifecycles are “Zoomed” into view, our Jewish rituals are added to the list of log-on events. Although not weekly, we’d host or attend Friday night Shabbat dinners with friends. During those special nights, we’d light candles, throw Challah after the blessings, and laugh about the velocity of the bread’s bounce. As a Chevra, we’d did our best to preserve these rituals on Zoom by sharing Shabbat candle lighting, but bread doesn’t bounce through a screen.

The Passover Seder table also took on a different look. In theater, the fourth wall is the theoretical barrier between the actors on the stage and its viewers. Having a Zoom Seder felt as though the fourth wall was broken, as we attempted to grant access for out-of-town cousins and friends to our table and us to theirs. Ritualistically, Elijah got our Zoom password, rather than an open-door invitation.

Suffice it to say, we are now entering the new normal. While current precautions will likely lighten as vaccines are found and curves flatten, our practices for the foreseeable future will continue to be defined by what we can witness through our screen.

Today, I welcome that oversized portal in my living room. As the High Holiday cycle arrives, and I prepare my couch for services (this consists of a deep cleansing of the couch, and extra fluff for the pillows), I’m reminded of wise words my Mom once shared with me. She said, we have the answers, we may not have the right answers. How does this translate to our COVID-19 precautionary circumstances? Our TV offers a way to connect, even though it isn’t the way we’d like to connect. Perhaps next year we’ll connect in person.