There’s a nightly blackout protocol in our house. We have to turn everything off to stand a chance at bedtime. If the iPad screen still shines, we’ve lost before we’ve started. If we stop to answer a text or check that last email that just came in, it’s over.
My kids can smell electronics. Like a pair of two-legged, semi-verbal hound dogs, they can root out wherever a screen might be on, just in case something important is happening on it. I’m convinced that my son could get lost staring at the screen of a digital clock just to watch the numbers change.
The other night, I was finishing up some kitchen cleanup and I called out to the kids to head upstairs and get ready for bed.
“Can we read books?”
“Of course you can. I’ll be right up.”
I washed the last dish and drained the sink while I listened for the telltale sounds of two kids stomping up the stairs. Nothing. I didn’t hear them arguing about who would get to read devotions. I didn’t hear anything except the dull drone of something on TV.
I looked out from the kitchen and both of them were staring at the television, entirely entranced.
I could see tendrils from the cable company reaching out from the glow of the TV into their eyeballs.
Their souls were actually trying to commune with the spirit of modern philosopher Philips Magnavox.
And I’m pretty sure they were levitating.
It was a yogurt commercial. Just a standard, run-of-the-mill, bland, vanilla yogurt commercial. It was actually a commercial for vanilla yogurt.
And they had both completely surrendered to it. They were lost in a blue glow of the benefits of probiotics and the fact that yogurt and yoga seem to be a package deal.
It wasn’t loud or flashy, exciting or tender, heart-warming or motivating. It didn’t take a stuffed dinosaur, animated princess, action hero, mutant animal or anthropomorphic machine.
All it took was a cup of fermented milk. A simple yogurt commercial had captured them.
To an absurd amount of protest, I pushed the power button. With an abrupt click the great Philips Magnovox was silenced. In melancholy silence, they trudged up the stairs in front of me, the dasher-of-dreams-and-all-things-beautiful.
The entire experience lingered in my mind as I tucked them in and we got ready for devotions and nighttime prayers. With blankets wrapped tight and my hand on the wall switch, I asked them what they had been watching on TV before we came up.
“I don’t know.” Said my son, dismissing the question with a wave, still somewhat heartbroken.
“Ummm… Yogurt, I think.” Said my daughter, with her usual full commitment to definitive indecision.
“I love you, both. Goodnight.” And the light went off.
As far as their experience is concerned, it was all shine and no substance. It captured them, but they didn’t get anything out of it. They saw it and they heard it but to them, it was little more than noise.
It’s amazing to me how powerful empty can be. How valuable nothing can seem.
Why are we so willing to grasp so firmly these things that do not push us forward? Why do we cling so tightly to that which does not force us to challenge ourselves? Why do we remain slaves to what holds us back and keeps us from being better versions of ourselves?
I think I’ve got some yogurt commercials of my own that need to be turned off.