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There are some folks who view the whole texting phenomenon as just something that distracts young people from actual human interactions, but since there is no evidence that it is going to go away anytime soon, it is worth considering the possibility that in some cases, texting can actually reflect the most profound kind of human connection.

The New York Times had a piece over the weekend about Don Brawley Jr., a Georgia man who has been suffering from cancer for more than four years, and who has gradually lost his ability to speak. Brawley has two sons - both ministers - and as he faces the end of his life, he realized there was much he had not shared with them. At a time he most needed his voice, it was betraying him.

The Times writes, “It was the voice, coarse and commanding, of the Vietnam War paratrooper, Brooklyn homicide detective, National Guard sergeant major that Don Jr., now 61, had been. It was the voice thickened by years of drinking. It was the voice that for so much of his sons’ boyhood went deliberately evasive on the subject of what he had seen in the killing fields of two continents.

“By his own admission, Don Jr. had watched from a detached distance as his two sons both heard the call to ministry in their teens. He was a soldier who had called on God only during times of distress in Vietnam, a cop who saw nothing godly as he waded through the murder wave of the crack-cocaine era. What pride he felt was at a remove ... And now — maddeningly now, when Don Brawley Jr. had been sober and Christian for 14 years, forthcoming and available at last, trying to live by Jeremiah’s prophecy that the Lord had plans for him — his voice of calm and reassurance and paternal pride had vanished.”

And do, the Times writes, “without his sons knowing, Don Jr. taught himself to text. He had always thought of texting as a feeble, newfangled excuse for conversation. Even now, with little choice, he faced the added obstacle of working with fingertips numbed in a common side-effect of chemotherapy.

“Yet one day late last winter, the first letters popped across the screen on David’s BlackBerry. Since then, the communication has rarely stopped. At every opportunity, the father has offered his wisdom, his experience, his compassion to his sons, a dying man bequeathing.”

“As a father, I really want to pass to my sons expressions of love,” Brawley told the Times in an e-mail this week. “Too often, fathers have prepared their sons with all the tools they need to negotiate the financial world, but leave them starving in life’s relationships.”

As the end draws closer, Brawley says he “has no fear of death,” but only “laments the dwindling of time.”

“The closer I get to what the doctors tell me is the end,” he wrote to the Times, “the more important each word of our conversations are.”

And sometimes, as fate would have it, those conversations take place using a technology that for some is a distraction, but for others is the best or only way to forge important and lasting connections.

In other words, not everything is what we think it is.

And that’s my Monday Eye-Opener.

- Kevin Coupe
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