Set aside technology for a bit and just be present

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Just about the only place you can't take a cell phone these days is the Beaufort County Courthouse. Amazingly for two hours, the 100 of us potential jurors survived.

One of the first things I observed in the gathering room was that some people were actually talking to those seated beside them. Without a phone to look at, people were present to those around them.

This used to happen while people waited in the airport, at doctors' offices, and in the checkout line, but now it seems that such simple connecting happens less and less.

I wonder if this in some way is contributing to the growing divide and the disconnection we feel.

Those running the court didn't ask for party affiliation, and so I didn't know if those I was talking to shared the same views on issues - and I didn't need to know.

Being an extrovert, I said something to the people on either side and one seemed more open to talking than the other, and so we did.

We found out that our children go to the same high school and pretty soon we were sharing about our children's interests. We had a nice conversation, and if I see him at a ball game, I will say "hello."

Once we were in the courtroom, going through reasons for exemptions and then a battery of questions to be sure we would be impartial, I spoke with a woman beside me. I found out that she's a teacher at an elementary school in Beaufort.

We commented on our love-hate relationship with smart phones especially our struggle to get our children disconnected from them. Knowing someone else shared that challenge was encouraging.

Though I had been dreading spending all day and possibly all week on jury duty (but I wasn't needed), I left enriched. For one, I was impressed with the professionalism of the staff and the appreciation the judge expressed at our willingness to be inconvenienced to be there to serve.

But perhaps more importantly, after that two-hour experience I left feeling more connected to the community, and it made me wonder what a difference it might make if, in every public place we go, we put our phones away?

Would we be more present to those around us? Might we share a smile or a word that a stranger may need to hear that day? Maybe we would help someone feel less alone.

As those who are called to share God's love, it seems to me that it can start with a simple gesture. Let's be intentional. Let's be present to those around us. Let's be a part of mending the divide.

The phone can wait.

Rev. Christine Herrin is the pastor at Lowcountry Presbyterian Church in Bluffton.

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