As a society we are losing our will to live. Perhaps we do not even know how to live anymore. Rather, we abandon ourselves to an insatiable pursuit of comfort. And then, to compound our madness, we burden our youth with this inane existence. I will illustrate with an all too familiar, all too tiresome, example.
Recently I went with my wife and four children to the local outdoor rink to play hockey and practice some skating skills. Next to this rink is a heated little shack where you can lace up skates without freezing your fingers off. Trying to keep all your fingers intact is one of the main winter pastimes in Saskatchewan.
As we entered the shack, we noticed two girls – both in grade six – just sitting there. Now, if we lived in a normal moment in history, these girls would’ve been out skating. But we do not. They were sitting on the bench, glued to their phones. Eventually we heard one of them comment, “Like, I just need ten more followers on TikTok! Like, ten more!”
Like, ok then.
The girls, unable to remove their eyes from the screens, nearly bumped into the door as they attempted to leave. Soon after, three teenagers showed up at the skate-lacing shack to stare at phones. After ten minutes of scrolling, they eventually stumbled their way out to the actual rink. For a minute or so they fired pucks on goal. Then, all three of them leaned against the side boards, pulled out their phones once more, and stared for another ten minutes. Finally, they went back to the skate shack, no doubt to warm up while scrolling their phones. Having no one else to play hockey with, my wife and I finally packed up the kids and went home. Such fun.
I will just jump into it. I’m tired of this irreal world we’ve created. I’m tired of hearing that, post-pandemic, kids spend 7.5 hours a day in front of a screen. I’m tired of hearing how every 100 minutes a teen commits suicide. I’m tired of personally looking into the tear-stained eyes of a youth and hearing him say, “I don’t want to live anymore.” I’m tired of this disengaged, disconnected, and Godless world.
I want my own children to be able to play a hockey game with others, for more than two minutes at a time. I want them to not feel like social outcasts because they do not, in fact, have a pocket device with instant access to pornography. But even beyond my own kids, I want all children to experience a real life, in the real world. A real world where tree forts are built, rabbits snared, prayers offered, traditions passed on, knees scraped, and books read. A world where actually skating with a friend on a Saturday afternoon is not some great counter-cultural act.
With this in mind, I must engage in some shameless self-promotion. Forgive me for this, but I do think it is important. You see, I have written a novel. The novel is for the 10-14 age group (yes, this age group still enjoys reading). At its heart, the book is a call to living life once again, in the real world.
Disconnected: The Broken Path centers on an internet-addicted twelve-year-old named Ben Montana. In the story, the internet one day suddenly dies. Chaos ensues, as one might imagine happening. Thrilling events, as well as poignant life-lessons given by his grandpa, eventually lead young Ben to learn how to live, survive, and even thrive amidst this great internet depression.
Now I imagine there are readers here with children who memorize Shakespeare and Dickens for fun, and consider Tolstoy and Eliot light reading. To such a child, Disconnected just might be – and it pains me to say this – a half-step down from Shakespeare. Though, I think such children would still enjoy the adventurous storyline and Catholic symbolism written into Disconnected. However, as my motto for writing has been “Launch out into the deep,” I have written the book for all those ten and up needing the impact of an honest, real, entertaining, even emotional, reading experience. To all of these, I offer this book for their edification and pleasure.
Quite frankly, I want more for our youth than the numb world we seem to be passing on to them. I want for them to be given a real life to live. To rephrase Tolkien, the world is not found in TikTok and Snapchat. It’s out there.
Disconnected: The Broken Path can be ordered through Amazon.
Below I offer a snippet from the book. In this scene, twelve-year-old Ben has been struggling without his usual dose of the internet. In fact, he’s been purposely acting up, and getting into trouble. Finally, his parents send him to Grandpa’s, hoping some time on the farm will smarten Ben up.
* * *
The bike to Grandpa’s was a nightmare. The screaming wind attacked Ben, and each push of the pedals seemed a torturous step towards the peak of Mount Everest. Only the summit of Ben’s journey was not to stand on top of the world in glory, but to have a conversation he wanted to avoid.
He pulled into the farmyard and leaned his bike against the house. The strong wind promptly pushed the bike over. Ben scowled, decided to leave the bike in a collapsed heap, and knocked on the front door. Ben never knocked on his grandpa’s door, but this time he felt like a prodigal grandson, and that he must not be too bold or brash.
Grandpa opened the door. “Look what the cat dragged in! Is it still alive?”
Ben gave a half-smile. He didn’t feel alive. Nor did he say anything.
“Come in, sit down. I just killed the fatted calf,” continued Grandpa, pointing to a new box of cookies on the table. “I’ll get you a coffee.”
Ben had never had coffee before. This was strange. But he didn’t want to be rude, so he tried it. By the time he got the coffee to be drinkable, the cup was filled with equal parts of coffee, cream, and sugar.
“So. You been having a fine time lately?” asked Grandpa.
“Real fine. A hundred-and-twenty-dollars fine, to be exact,” answered Ben.
“Well, I’m gonna pay for it. No, no! I insist.” Grandpa took out a piece of paper and began writing. When he was done, he signed the paper and showed Ben.
I hereby give one half of my chickens, 18 hens in total, to Benedict Montana. He is now responsible for their care.
“I guess we have to do things officially with some legal-ness these days. We wouldn’t want any more fines,” said his grandpa. “Go ahead and sign it.”
Ben was confused. He needed $120. Not eighteen hens.
“Should I take the hens down to the town office to pay for the fine? Just leave them on the mayor’s desk, maybe?” said Ben.
“No! You work with the hens, darn it. Great layers, they are. You’ll get close to eighteen eggs a day. That’s easily five dollars a day!”
Now it was starting to make sense to Ben. This was some cute little movie scene playing out before his eyes. He would just get some hens, sell the eggs, become a good person, have money left over to win the girl, and then live happily ever after. How cute, he thought. May as well get a black and white television too, and tuck in my shirt, and listen to Elvis Presley songs, and…
Grandpa interrupted his thoughts. “What’s her name, Ben?”
Now Ben’s confusion was the size of Mount Everest. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“You look so serious. So unhappy. So unfree. Must be a girl you like. No?”
One minute. One whole entire minute passed. 250 babies were born during that minute. 120 people died. Heck, one of his hens probably laid an egg during the wait. Maybe the egg hatched, too?
“Sophie. It’s not like that, though. She’s mad at me right now anyway. I just couldn’t let go…”
“Ben. Are you planning on getting married in the next year or so?”
Ben choked on his coffee. Married? “What? Of course not! That’s ridiculous.”
“Then be friends with Sophie. Understand? You’re twelve. Or thirteen? Whatever. The point is, you have some growing up to do. Some living to learn. You need good friends, like Sophie. But you need to grow up and become a man.”
Grandpa pointed to the coffee. So that’s what was going on. It was a cup of manhood, or something. Still, Ben thought about one of the points from the lecture. Grandpa had said he needed good friends like Sophie. Right now they were not, in fact, good friends. Ben knew it was his fault. He also knew he had to fix it.
One last time, Grandpa interrupted his thoughts. “Now sign that darn paper and go clean out the chicken coop! Business partners means I don’t have to shovel their crap anymore.”
“Well played,” said Ben as he signed the paper. “I guess I’ll get to work, then.”
“Just warning you, the coop might smell a little. I gave the hens some pickles last night.”
“Seriously? Why?” moaned Ben.
“Cause I had a talk with your dad yesterday, and I knew you’d be coming.” There was that old, lovable twinkle in his eye.
* * *
The ride home was slow. Yes, the wind was in Ben’s favor. But hauling eighteen eggs home in a grocery bag wasn’t exactly easy. He would need to bring his backpack from now on.
Ben decided he was going to stop and see Blake and Sophie before going home. The first stop was Blake’s house. Blake was a steady boy, and not one to hold a grudge. The apology was easy. The two boys were relieved to be back on speaking terms.
Talking with Sophie wasn’t so simple. Apparently she was out doing the favorite pastime of the troubled child—riding her bike around town.
After biking around Fairsoil for ten minutes, Ben finally caught a glimpse of her from a distance. “Hey Sophie!” Ben called as he started pedaling faster to catch up to her.
Sophie looked back at Ben, shook her head in disgust, and picked up speed. He couldn’t believe it. She was racing away from him.
“No! Sophie, wait!” Ben yelled, desperate to catch up.
Shouting, biking, and balancing eggs was too much for Ben. He skidded to a stop. A dozen or so eggs in the grocery bag he was carrying were crushed together. Yolk oozed on Ben’s shirt and pants. And Sophie biked out of sight.
There was only one thing in the world that could make the situation worse. Just one. Of course, this one thing was exactly what happened. Jaxon, as if summoned by some demon, soon came speeding by on his bike. Noticing Ben, and the mess on his clothes, he came over to offer words of encouragement.
“You suck,” Jaxon sputtered. He wasn’t the most eloquent bully to ever live.
“Suck eggs,” came Ben’s reply. He started whipping his remaining eggs at Jaxon. One caught him square on the side of the head.
“Hey, jerk,” Jaxon shouted, before realizing he should make an early exit. One more egg hit his backside as he rode away.
Well, thought Ben, with eggs running down his front side, at least something went right.
Dan Millette is a husband and father of five. He teaches in Saskatchewan, Canada. Millette is a graduate from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Ontario and has a Master of Arts degree in theology from Holy Apostles College in Connecticut. His personal blog is www.bravestthing.com.