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Samantha Grant is a documentary filmmaker, journalist and educator who lives in San Francisco.

My phone went missing on Rosh Hashanah — and it was awesome 

This year on Rosh Hashanah, my day began as usual. I woke to my alarm, got myself and the kids fed and dressed, and piled everybody into the car about 10 minutes behind schedule.

We were all looking forward to spending the day at shul, being present with friends and community, and marking the start of another year.

Rosh Hashanah is typically a day of joyful celebration, of eating apples and honey, and of wishing one another a sweet new year. This day also kicks off the High Holidays between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I’ve come to deeply appreciate this annual opportunity to take stock of what’s happened in the previous year, make any necessary corrections and amends, and plan for what possibilities the new year may bring. In addition, I’ve found it’s a great time to think about breaking bad habits and starting good ones.

That’s why, when I discovered my phone had gone missing in the late afternoon of Rosh Hashanah, my reaction to this situation was a little different than it might have been on any other day of the year. 

Our family spent a blissful morning with The Kitchen (our synagogue in San Francisco) surrounded by loved ones and community, so grateful for the simple fact of togetherness after two years of isolation during the pandemic. We were scheduled to go to a friend’s house after services to enjoy some treats and play music together, a practice that brings more sweetness and joy to our lives than almost anything else we do as a family. 

As we made our way to the car, I started digging through my giant mom purse for my phone to text our friends our ETA. After five minutes of unsuccessful searching, I had a sinking feeling when I discovered my phone was not in the bag — and when we got to the car a few minutes later, and it did not turn up there either, I realized my phone was officially gone.

I’m not sure what happened to it — whether I dropped it somewhere along the way or it was taken from my bag while walking through the streets of downtown San Francisco — but I knew I’d used it on the way to shul that morning. And now it was gone.

My immediate response was panic. What would I do? How would I know where to drive? What about my music, photos, voice recordings, documents? How would I know when to sleep, eat, exercise, work? I was so attached to my phone — it was basically like a brain prosthesis — that in those first few moments, it was impossible to imagine life without it.

I kept mindlessly reaching into my bag and hoping it would magically appear, like reaching for a phantom limb.

But after a few more minutes of futile searching, I accepted it was gone.

Then I took a deep breath and just let it go.

And as I exhaled, something happened. Some space opened up in my chest, and I felt a sudden surge of joy and liberation. Instead of the jittery distraction I’d been feeling since I first discovered my phone was missing, I was filled with a sense of clear possibility and big freedom.

A wild thought occurred to me: What if I did not get a new phone? What if, on this day, I was being given an opportunity to leave my phone, and all its annoying interruptions, behind. 

As we walked into our friend’s home, I announced to no one in particular, “I think I’m going to go … phone free!” — and the minute I said it, I felt a lightness, an ease, a deep wave of calm as I realized that leaving my phone behind was actually a choice I could make.

I decided at that moment to give myself the 10 days of the High Holidays to try life without a phone. After that, I thought, I could consciously determine if, how, and whether I really wanted to bring a phone back into my daily life at all.

My High Holiday experience this year was more spacious than anything I’ve experienced in decades. I was able to just sit and think, focused and uninterrupted, for long stretches of time. I did a lot of reading, a lot of walking and a lot of creating. Also, the fact that I have a home landline meant I was able to make a phone call if it was absolutely necessary, but my calling capacity would be limited to only the time I was sitting at my desk, at home. 

As someone with the privilege of running my own small business, I have a lot of freedom to determine my daily schedule, so although living phone-free meant I was not as accessible as I am when I have a mobile phone with me 24 hours a day, it also meant I was more efficient during the hours I was connected.

I got my calling work done during designated periods of the day and I used my laptop to answer emails and other e-messages. This limitation made it easy to have clear, distinct boundaries between work time and family time — a welcome shift!

The short version is that choosing to live without my phone started out as a snap decision, and very quickly ended up feeling like a revolutionary act.

Living phone-free, for what turned out to be almost a full month, also felt a lot like waking up from a long, deep slumber into a world where my brain was refreshed and sharp and energized.

My mind relaxed. My thoughts wandered. I even got a little bored. It was awesome.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of J.

Samantha Grant
Samantha Grant

Samantha Grant is an Emmy- and Peabody-nominated documentary filmmaker, journalist and educator who lives in San Francisco.