The Laptop

(variation on last week's theme)

Computers flow through this household like cats, except that the cat population is notably more stable than the computer population. Cats don't senesce as quickly. Even the oldest model still with us--a female domestic shorthair, brought out 'way back in 1988 --still functions just fine, if a little slower, with her original operating system.

Computers, however, come and go. The first computer I got--now up in the attic, stone dead--was a Panasonic "portable" (about the same dimensions and weight as a full-size sewing machine) with an 8088 chip and 256K of memory. Then there was the 286; then the 386 with Windows; then a souped-up 486; now a Pentium 233, still no great shakes, but enough to run what I want. And then there's the 486 IBM ThinkPad, of which I am extremely fond; and the kids' computers (which also have come and gone)... I'd have to sit down and work out how many boxes we've had around, but it's got to be at least 10. All of 'em have been clones or hand-me-downs or second-hand.

The latest acquisition, got just today, is a Compaq laptop, by no means a recent model but at least a Pentium and therefore one-up on the IBM. The previous owner was clearly a businessthingie, because the laptop is all crudded over with a ton and a half of business-type software that I have no use for. I've spent most of the day since I got it home madly uninstalling what could be safely uninstalled, but it may still have to go to the shop for a really thorough cleanup. The temptation to go to DOS and type in FORMAT C:\ is strong, but I'm trying to be sensible.

Of course the problem with all this old stuff is that it leaves tracks and traces around behind it, and I am far too ignorant to go in there and clean up the mess. I know I will be bombarded with helpful suggestions (please don't!) but I also know when I'm so far out of my depth that I need a professional. Most non-computer people, except for self-appointed geeks, know better than to mess around with a computer's mind, such as it is.

Why, then, are we so quick to try to fix each other? I wouldn't be caught dead practicing veterinary science without a license, but amateur psychology is another matter.... I have suffered grievously in the past from people who were "only trying to help" by leaping to amateur psychological diagnoses of whatever-ailed-me and then trying a fix, and none of 'em ever did the smallest smidge of good.

Each of us carries the traces of the past: some have been hurt by small things that they don't seem to be able to get past, while others have gone through the real big horrors. Like my laptop's memory, we have our personal residuals, and they are apt to gum up the works. They can be minor or major. A woman remembers how a teacher cruelly criticized her singing, thirty years back; she has never sung a note since, and try as she may to get over it, her eyes still sting with tears when she remembers. A soldier keeps getting hijacked by memories and nightmares of old wartime atrocities and by fits of emotional agony so strong they're almost like grand mal seizures. Each of us has at least a little damage from life, simply because life is full of elbows and occasional land mines. Some of us have a whole lot of damage, and we crash a whole lot. And unlike my laptop, for us, FORMAT C:\ is not even an option.

We don't have the option of obliterating the past; what's done is done. But we do have the promise of healing. Healing isn't fixing; it doesn't put things back as they were or wipe the memory clean. What it does is to make use of the past--redeems it, and us, to God's good purposes. If we can't opt for FORMAT C:\, my laptop cannot opt for grace. But it's there for us the moment we're will to acknowledge that we need it. And then its action, slow or quick, is inevitably for good, ours and those around us.

God does know every particle of our own beings, every microcircuit and its history, what caused this glitch or that psychological stutter: why he can't get over that comment his wife made; why she finds it so difficult to leave her house; why he's forever looking for reassurance; why she cleans so compulsively. God knows all and loves all, and the love sees all--the stuff we're proud of, the stuff we'd rather not have anyone see at all. There's no hiding from God, who knows each word we speak before it's formed on our tongues and lips.

What God asks of us--and really, it's all God asks--is simply that we be willing to turn Godward, which is also health-ward. If we choose, instead, to treasure and nourish our victimhood or deny that we need healing at all, God will respect that choice. If we'd rather sit down in the mudpuddle of sloth and pride and self-pity, God is not going to force us to get up and walk on. We can go on miserably sitting. But if we choose to set foot on the path toward healing--which is strangely like the journey in faith--then we give God permission to bring his grace into the picture. And that makes all the difference.

Which doesn't necessarily make things all better. Again, we're not computers: if the motherboard gets damaged, you can't pull it out and replace it. A woman gets breast cancer; she and her family and friends, in the strongest of faith, pray for her recovery, and she dies anyway. We blame God for not having cured her, or ourselves for not having had strong enough faith, when what we should be blaming (if there's any point in blaming) is the cancer. We demand of God to be fixed, and fixing isn't always a possibility. (It isn't always a possibility for computers, either; we've found that out the hard way!)

But healing can take us into new directions and possibilities that we couldn't have imagined before. It can open vocations; it can lead us down paths that had looked like sidetracks but turn out to be main roads. It can lead to the restoration of relationships and to astonishing spiritual and psychological growth. If we're broken, we're also opened up; and opened up means that the Light gets in.

Use a computer at all, and you're apt to leave bits of dead files and broken links and the like all over the memory, however much you try to keep things tidy, unless you're a real expert. Live a life at all, and you're apt to have bits of dead files and broken links and the like throughout your soul, just because that's the way life is. Fixing the computer may look (and is usually) simpler: either it can be fixed, or it's bust, and you move the box up to the attic with the other dead computers. But we are alive, body and (please God!) soul, and our options are far wider, more complex, and more promising.

Now, if I can just get this fool thing to boot faster....

Copyright © 2000 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 08 Jul 2000
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