phoneTwo weeks ago, during my children’s winter break, I lost my cell phone on a ski slope.

Now, at the outset, I want to recognize the immense privilege packed into that sentence.  I own an iPhone with a fancy camera on it.  (Heck, I think there are actually 3 cameras.)  My children had a school break, and I was able to take off work to be with them.  I had the good fortune as a middle schooler back in the ‘90’s to have joined a ski club and been taught how to ski.   And I have the financial ability to go skiing with my family.

For all of these things I am incredibly grateful.   (And all of these things are a key reason why I felt so appalled at the emotional reaction I had to the phone’s loss; see below.)

Skiing is truly one of my family’s happy places.  It’s an activity that all four of us genuinely want to do, and (at least while my boys are 9 and 11) want to do together.  No one is there simply to please or mollify the others.

There’s something magical to me about the quiet swish of the snow, wind on my face, watching my kids learn something new, and being in nature.  I hadn’t been on a ski slope since COVID started, and gosh was it good to be back out there.

Now back to the phone.

phoneOne Tumble, and My Phone Went Flying

Between middle school and adulthood, I took an approximately 25-year hiatus from skiing.  The first time I went back to it was with our boys, who were about 5 and 7 at the time.  And I was terrified.  Skiing actually was not my happy place in middle school.  I did because, well, I’m not sure why.  I feel pretty confident someone pressured me into it.  But terror was my predominant feeling back then.

So when I returned to it as an adult, I was sure I was going to die tumbling down a hill.  I agreed to return on the condition that I took a lesson to get myself back in the saddle.  And that private (well, semi-private, because I was with my husband) lesson was an extremely worthwhile investment.  I got back confidence I probably never had.  And over the past few years, I’ve become a more decent skier.

Yet as anyone who skis – or watches the Olympics – knows, we all fall from time to time.  On our trip to Pennsylvania two weeks ago, I took exactly one big fall.  I wiped out on a blue run for no good reason, and flipped over myself, skis flying in all directions.  I landed off the trail in a forested area.  Fortunately, thank heavens, my body was more or less completely fine, save some knee pain.

A kind man skied over and reached his pole out to me to help get me out of the forest ditch.  And I headed back down the mountain to meet up with my family.  As I reached the bottom of the hill, though, I patted my jacket to feel my phone.  You know, that check we do probably 7,843x/day to ensure our little electric appendage is still nearby?  And it was gone.

I had been keeping my phone in my ski jacket’s hip pocket.  And somehow during the tumble, it had apparently flown out.

Eek, I Was a Mess

Do you ever have this experience?  Something bad happens, and you’re about to freak out.  The rational part of your brain speaks to you in a calm and quiet voice and says: “You will figure this out.  It’s just a phone.  Take some deep breaths now.  All will be well.”  And after you pause for a moment to hear that voice, you tell it to shut the F up, you run away from it as fast as possible, and you lose your mind anyway?   Yep.  That was me.

First, I did all the things one does to try to recover lost items.  I talked to a ski school instructor who was nearby.  By then, in tears, I went to the customer service desk.  My husband used his phone to register my lost phone in an online system.  I talked to the security team.  (They offered me up an entire plastic box full of lost phones to look through.  Turns out I wasn’t alone in this particular form of loss.)  And I rode the lift back up with my family and returned to the scene of the fall.  We all combed through the woods, to no avail.

After a while, I started to move past denial, and we decided to just go ski.  There was nothing we could do about it at that point, and we reasoned that we shouldn’t waste an otherwise beautiful day on the slopes.  Emotions are contagious, though, and I know the event put a damper on the feelings of everyone in the family that day.

The Two Fish in the Ocean

In total, I was “phoneless” for about 3 days.  During that time, I had all the feelings, from withdrawal, to desperation, to frustration, to gratitude, to moments of peace, to real dependency on others.  Everything about my life seemed to be connected to this device.  Heck, I couldn’t even roll out my mat to do yoga to my usual music on the Insight Timer app without borrowing my husband’s phone.

The worst part, emotionally, wasn’t the “being without” the phone though.  It was the pain I inflicted on myself for having lost the darn thing.  And the shame I felt for being so ridiculously attached to it.  What were all the years of yoga, meditation, and therapy for, if I still had a meltdown like this over a device?  When will I ever “get over” strong emotional reactions?

As I finally and gradually came to remind myself (and be reminded of by my amazing husband) humans have strong emotions.  Full stop.  And the phone is, for better and for worse, our source of connection and lifeline to everyone else I our world.

When I told Anya Smirnova, our Mindful Return UK Chapter Lead, about what happened, she said it reminded her of a story about two fish in the ocean.  As she recounted it to me, there are two fish who are friends.  One jumps out of the ocean for the first time and is stunned by what he sees.  When he returns to the water, he says to the other fish, “WOW, did you ever have any idea how much water there is?!”  And the other fish says, “What water?”

Living deep in phone world, we don’t even see how much of our lives are dependent on them.  Deciding not to check a work e-mail account for a week is one thing.  Being disconnected from everything a phone offers is something completely different.  I had jumped out of the phone ocean and was shocked at its influence and control over so much of my own life.


Practical Phone Lessons Learned

Thanks to AT&T, I had an identical phone back in my hands about 60-70 hours after the incident.  And when I say “identical,” I truly mean it.  After the booting up process, I turned it on and found not only all my same apps but my wallpaper, too.  Amazing.  FedEx delivered the phone directly to our AirBnB, and we went to a nearby phone store for a new case and glass protector.

What practical lessons did I learn from this ordeal?

  • Check and make sure you have insurance on your phone. These little computers we carry around aren’t cheap.  Though I didn’t know it before, AT&T did have loss/theft insurance built into our plan.  I had to pay a $250 deductible, but that was a heck of a lot better than having to cover the entire cost of the phone.
  • When skiing, don’t put your phone in your hip pocket. Sure enough, my ski jacket had a breast pocket my phone fit in that I should have been using all along.  Put your phone somewhere other than a pocket near your hips, which can unzip easily and where it could more easily break if you fall.
  • Ensure you’re backing up your device to the cloud. I lost my phone mid-morning, and the last cloud back-up had taken place around 8:30am.  Pretty much everything was restored, thanks to the fact that some brilliant person in a phone store once made sure my cloud back-up was turned on.
  • If you lose your mind when you lose your phone, remember that: (1) you are human, and (2) your sanity will, in fact, return. As my yoga instructor reminded me, the practice of yoga doesn’t mean you’ll never get upset.  I just means you can return to your center (hopefully more quickly) after you do.  And feel free to e-mail me if you’d like to commiserate with another human who has been through this.  We’re all more resilient when we recognize our common humanity.

And Now What?

I’ve calmed down now from the whole event.  Told and re-told the story.  Processed it.  Learned from it, and now I’m moving on.

I now definitely have a deeper awareness of how much these phones are in our hands every day.  And I’ve been trying to step away from my device a little bit more often, in small increments.  Back to the fish, though.  I don’t know there’s anything to be “done” about the fact that there’s an ocean out there with water in it.  But knowing it’s there has certainly given me a new perspective through which to see the world.

Finally, I’d like to close with a message to anyone who may have texted me between February 21 and February 23, 2022: I’m not ghosting you.  I simply didn’t receive your message while I was completely off the grid.


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