Mary Katharine Ham

Starting today, this girl is going offline for a whole week. A week. It’s a milestone. The last time I was similarly untethered by any number of wireless devices was way back in 2004.

It was late September, and I was on the Outer Banks of North Carolina with my behind in a beach chair instead of an office chair, my hands more likely to grab some drifting kelp than a keyboard. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine that I was unconnected for an entire week near the end of the 2004 election cycle, with all the Kerry-crushing and Rather-toppling those last few weeks offered any blogosphere fan.

On the other hand, it’s very hard to imagine being online for a week thinking about John Kerry when your feet are dangling off your rented porch, sun-reddened toes dug into the gritty island sand, a bucket of steamed oysters at your side. I think I made the right call.

Today, I cut the cord for another week. But my Internet addiction has progressed since 2004. I wonder how I will cope. Back then, I blogged occasionally for work, but I still had to walk down to the library to get online when I was away from the office. On Tuesday of this week, my cable modem went down for 30 minutes, and I was on the phone with Comcast at 11 p.m.

Back then, I had a cell phone that didn’t often work outside of major metropolitan areas. Today I have a Blackberry so that my boss can reach me with elaborate details of any task that needs doing on a Saturday night. Yes, I’m one of those people now.

But not this week. This week, I take the computer off my lap, stop watching the bars on my Blackberry, and go to sleep-away camp. That’s right, sleep-away camp. It’s another milestone. This is actually my first trip to camp, and it’s anything but vacation. I’m part of a Young Life ministry to high-school kids in the D.C. area, and we’re taking 20 of them to a week-long camp in the mountains of Virginia.

The week will not be relaxing. These kids are energetic, tough, and often moody, like most 15-year-olds. They’re also a ton of fun. For many of them, it will be their first trip outside of a major metropolitan area, in the mountains, under stars you can actually see at night. It may also be the first time many of them hear the Gospel.

As for me, I get to live out a little childhood dream. The closest I ever got to sleep-away camp as a kid was watching “Meatballs” and “Parent Trap.” There were no camp boyfriends or dances. My mother was a schoolteacher, so she was home with us all summer. My brothers and I made a game of counting how many times we could tell her, “Mom, we’re bored,” before she’d offer something other than “read a book” or “clean your room.”

When it came to summer, my brothers and I were more of a Country-Time Lemonade ad than a wacky 80s camp movie. There were no grand plots or schemes, no planned activities, just lazy drifting from one idea to the next. Done climbing the magnolia tree? Run up the street to sneak into the neighbor’s yard and pick cherries. Done with that? Race bikes no-handed down the big hill on Norton St. Skin your knee? Splash some Bactine on that sucker and get back out there.

I wasn’t always the indoor, Internet kid you see before you today. So, this week I’ll prove it. I’ll ride the 300-ft. zipline into the lake, toddle and waver through the ropes course, try to rediscover my upper-body strength on the climbing wall, and do all of it while keeping up with 10 teenage girls. Just try that without your Outlook calendar.

When you’ve been in D.C. for a couple of years, it’s good to remind yourself every now and then that the world moves on, even when you’re not within the life-giving reach of a cell tower. It’s good to remember that, even when your skin has faded to that sickly color politely known around town as “bureaucrat,” that your soul is tawny and sun-kissed; that your heel-clad feet haven’t forgotten how to barefoot it down a gravel road.

The last time I was offline for a week, I had one of the best weeks of my life. I hope this week proves to be the same, not just for me, but for a group of teenagers who could also use a break from the city—a chance to remember that there’s more to life than video games, trips to McDonald’s, and house parties.

Pray for me, folks. I may need it. Does anyone know if Internet withdrawal causes chills?


Mary Katharine Ham

Mary Katharine Ham is editor-at-large of HotAir.com, a contributor to Townhall Magazine.

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