The Road Taken

This essay was awarded an honorable mention in Notre Dame Magazine’s 2021 Young Alumni Essay Contest. It was originally published at magazine.nd.edu.

Photo by Bruno Ticianelli on Pexels.com

The snap of a bone set in motion the next 40 years.

On that Saturday morning in April, the sun coated the road sleepily as my mom and two friends biked down Jericho Turnpike in Long Island. Usually rush-hour cars honked and skidded angrily along this highway, but on weekends it stretched calmly ahead, flat and empty.

With cycling shoes clipped firmly into the pedals of her new red Italian racing bike — the most expensive item she’d ever owned — my mom rode behind her two friends. The wind beat against her back, curls escaping her ponytail and whipping madly across her face. As the trio hit a stretch without any stores, a black cloud loomed suddenly and inexplicably behind them.

Screeech! My mom’s bike skidded left with the car’s impact, sliding below the wheels and breaking into jagged pieces as it tore into the tar below. Her body went right, sailing through the air with her feet still clipped onto the bike, joints twisting and cracking as she fell. She remembers looking down at herself from above and seeing her leg bent in a C-shape and white bone jutting out surreally from her left ankle. She was conscious but felt no pain.

In a way, the day of the accident was the first day of the rest of her life.

***

“We’re not sure we can save your leg,” the doctor said.

My mom, only 17 at the time, was alone in the hospital when she heard that news, realizing for the first time the severity of her injury.

The pain that was mysteriously absent at the time of the accident roared through her body now. As she dozed in and out of morphine-fueled sleep, her body kept bracing for impact, reliving the trauma repeatedly. Medication muted the pain for 30 minutes and then she’d wait three more hours for the next shot. She didn’t know how much more of it she could take.

After she’d spent two weeks in the hospital her orthopedist, Dr. Helou, knew her treatment was at a crossroads. They’d staved off infections but with her ankle crushed, what could they do now? Amputation was a logical option, but here was an athletic teenage girl with an entire life ahead of her. There had to be another way.

Dr. Helou turned to my grandparents. He told them this injury was more than he could handle and he’d been praying. One night after church, he’d returned to his office to see a medical journal spread open to a full-page article by a man named Dr. Howard Rosen — an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Joint Diseases who was performing internal fixation — a new, European method of repairing complicated fractures with plates and screws. The method was rare in the United States at the time, but there was hope.

“I’m going to give you her X-rays,” Dr. Helou said to my grandfather. “You go to the hospital first thing Monday morning and beg to see Dr. Rosen. It’s what I would do if it were my own daughter.”

When my grandpa arrived, the waiting room was already packed. A sympathetic receptionist brought him around back to Dr. Rosen’s office so he’d be the first in line when the doctor got back from surgery.

When Dr. Rosen finally walked in six hours later, he was warm and friendly, with a perfectly manicured handlebar moustache and pristine spectacles that did not reveal that he’d come right from an intense operating room. Hours earlier he’d repaired the ankle of a Long Island woman who’d been in a horrific car accident. He thought my mom’s injury looked similar.  

“I’ll do it,” he said. “I think I can help her walk again.”

With those words, my mom’s long road to healing began.

***

A few years before my mom’s accident, writer and essayist Susan Sontag famously wrote, “Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick.”

My mom has traveled between these kingdoms more than once in her 59 years, undergoing the biking accident, breast cancer and a life-threatening tumor on her adrenal gland.

When she returned from the hospital after giving birth to my youngest sister, she opened the New York Times issues she’d missed during a long and arduous last month of pregnancy.

She’d been thinking lately about Dr. Rosen, her very first guide back to the kingdom of the well. Not only did he rebuild her ankle, but she hardly had any pain and could do pretty much any activity other than running. He’d said to her after surgery, “If I buy you 10 years’ time and in 10 years they have better ankle replacement available, I would consider that a success.”

In the years since the accident, she’d gotten married, moved to a new state, bought a house and become a mother. She was going to give him a call and say, “Dr. Rosen, you told me you’d give me 10 years, but I got 20! And look, I have four beautiful children now.” Maybe she’d even send a photograph of the family.

But just as Dr. Helou had fortuitously opened the medical journal so many years earlier to see Dr. Rosen’s article, so did my mom open the New York Times to see Dr. Rosen’s obituary spreading across a full page.

Her heart sank. She wanted to thank him but he was already gone — taken by cancer, an illness that no number of plates and screws could cure.

***

In my childhood backyard, there are two tall pine trees that tower over my bedroom window. During thunderstorms, these trees sway back and forth, branches fluttering about angrily. I used to peer out of my window on stormy nights with worry.

“What if they fall on me?” I asked. “What if they crash through my bedroom?”

My mom would comfort me, saying “Don’t worry, the trees won’t fall. They are strong. And because their trunks can sway, they can take on the wind.”

Some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers have a similar engineering technique. In fact, they can sway inches to the right or left on the windiest days. For me, my mom is that tree, that skyscraper. Perhaps the most important lesson of the many I’ve learned from her is to embrace the hurt, realizing that life ebbs and flows between dark times and bright ones.

My mom’s incredible strength and faith has held steady through illness, loss, financial strain and the stress of the global pandemic. She’s flexible and proactive, staying focused on her core values and the people around her. Though she never got to thank Dr. Rosen in person, I know gratitude guides her actions every day. She’s taught me how to navigate career shifts and lapses in confidence by recognizing that hard times are inevitable. Getting through these hard times with grace while always asking what you can do for others makes good times that much sweeter.

My mom had never missed a day of school before the accident. But in an instant, she lost her school routine, senior year, nights out with friends. She faced a hazy future. She never asked, “why me?” because she was grateful to live, grateful that it was a bike that had gone under the car and not her.

As a teenager, she went through what she calls an “existential crisis,” staying up late at night reading books to figure out her purpose. After the accident her path became clear: she would become a physical therapist and help others recover from difficult injuries. And it was at SUNY Downstate Medical Center that she met a kind and silly fourth year medical student who’d become her husband — my father.

On that empty stretch of Jericho Turnpike, a dreadful accident changed her life trajectoryBut just as bone transplanted from her hip over time grew into a new ankle, she took her one life and, with my dad, built four new ones. Forty years later she keeps pedaling ahead with the strength and speed of a 17-year-old, blocking the wind for those of us who came behind.

A New York day like no other

Where were you when you heard the results of the election?

I’m sitting outside at Irving Farm, a coffee shop on Third Avenue in the Upper East Side. Hanging out at coffee shops is one of my favorite pastimes but this is my first time back since the pandemic started in March. I watch people go in and out of the store, grabbing their cold brews and americanos, while well-groomed dogs slop up the crumbs of croissants on the sidewalk.

Scattered honks and shouts punctuate the usual noise the city. I wonder what they’re celebrating. Somewhere on a high rise overlooking the avenue, I hear a single voice yell out, “Joe Biden wins!”

People start cheering and I cry as joy and relief wash over me. I feel like I can finally breathe; I feel like I can’t catch my breath. I look up and see a young woman directly across from me sobbing, her head in her hands. After a few minutes I put on my mask and stand up, catching her eye. She smiles, puts on her mask, and says to me, “This might be weird, but can I give you a hug?” A guy nearby snaps a photo of us. It feels like history.

Cab after cab drives by, a cacophony of honks. Construction workers slam the sides of their trucks, city bus drivers holler uncontrollably, and a blonde woman in a Bentley pumps her fist. I make my way to my favorite spot in the city, The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, where people of all ages and races are gathered with signs and flags. A man around my age with a weeks-old newborn holds him to the sky, like Simba, as the afternoon light combs through the baby’s wispy hair.

“This is for our kids! This is for our kids!” someone shouts. As the initial shock wears off, people are remembering Kamala. What it means for our kids’ futures to have the first Black, South Asian, female vice president in office. A 20-something near me dances in the middle of the street with a Biden-Harris sign. For once, the oncoming traffic isn’t angered by the disruption.  

I meet up with my brother for mimosas and brunch as the sun shines strongly overhead, wanting badly to be a part of all this. I’ve never seen so many New Yorkers smile. As we sit outside I overhear a little boy ask his mom, “Will Joe Biden’s family be really happy?” “Yes,” she says. “Yes, I think they will.”

Night falls on New York and the shouts become more sparse. We’re overjoyed and we’re exhausted. We’ve hoped and we’ve endured. We will not stop fighting for health and equality. But for the moment, we celebrate, and let the champagne flow over the streets.

Poem: When You Came Here

New York is strange that way

shedding shops and

birthing new buildings,

all while you’re

waiting to cross a street or

watching a parade roll by.

 

In the years since you’ve been here

violent waves of gentrification

have washed over the land

you once knew.

It seems to some like

a shot to the concrete heart

but is a death much slower

change strangling livelihoods

so you’re left to mourn

your favorite places

McLoughlin’s and Boyle’s Bar,

Benny’s Burritos,

the deli around the corner

with the nice man from Pakistan,

as the paint dries

and the sun winks

knowingly

at the streets.

 

New Yorkers are strange that way

missing the ways things were

forgetting the ways

they’ve changed shape

to find a place

in this endless puzzle

of nine million people.

 

But under the layers of soot and grime

in the rare moments of quiet

between sirens and shouts

in the early hours of morning

when the buses sleep in Jersey

and the Hudson flows in silence

you can find exactly who you were

when you came here.

 

Dedicated to Papa, my favorite New Yorker

Letter to my freshman self

This piece was originally published in the anthology, A Letter to my Freshman Self: Domers Reflect on their Undergraduate Experience. 

Dear Sara,

When you arrive at Notre Dame that hot afternoon in August you’re not going to feel at home right away.

This becomes especially apparent during your first-year seminar when your professor asks the class to write reflections on the meaning of “home”.

One by one, your classmates will talk about Notre Dame as a second home, a place that felt “right” the very first moment they stepped on campus. You do not read your reflection out loud. You are embarrassed, ashamed. Why does Notre Dame still feel unfamiliar to you, but is already home to others?

The first thing I’ll tell you is there is nothing to be ashamed of. The second thing I’ll tell you is you’re not alone.

Sara, there will be weekend nights when you’ll lie in your dorm room, listening to the sophomore girls next door giggle and blast music before going out. You’ll scroll through Facebook photos of high school friends partying at other schools, worrying you’ll be replaced by Thanksgiving. This notion is ridiculous. College won’t change what you’ve built over many years.

But you’ll make new friends for life, too, and these friendships will start budding early on. You don’t realize that some of the people you wandered campus aimlessly with those first few weeks will become friends you cry with at graduation.

So give it three months and everything will be okay. I can tell you all major life changes will take about this amount of time to adjust to. The only way to overcome homesickness is to endure it – but I know that’s not what you want to hear.

Sara, you were a perfectionist even before coming to Notre Dame, but college will exponentially pronounce that aspect of your personality. While it will help you succeed academically, I want you to be aware of its pitfalls.

Papers can only be perfected to a point. As an English major you’ll write so many of them but there’s no use getting frantic every time one’s due, skipping lunch with friends to rework a single sentence. Try to finish papers earlier so your days feel less crazed. I know that’s easier said than done.

Of course, perfectionism also extends to body image, especially at a school like Notre Dame of people where 75% of students were varsity athletes. You are so terrified of gaining the freshman fifteen that you become hyper-conscious of everything you eat. It doesn’t help that many other girls hold the same fear, silently comparing plates at the dining hall and working out five times a week. You are healthy, active and young. Care less.

And try new things. That’s what college is for.

Sara, I’m proud of you for walking into The Observer office in the basement of South Dining Hall the third week of your freshman year. It won’t be easy stepping into an office full of strangers, but this small act will have the greatest impact on your college career. The Observer will help you dive into the larger Notre Dame and South Bend communities, and you’ll go on to become one of the leading editors as a senior.

Breaking out of your comfort zone is the best way to meet new people. Freshman year, do this as much as possible. Go to the dorm party even when your only acquaintance is the girl from Welsh Fam who sits next to you in Genetics class. Join a sports team even though you’re not very good at the sport. There are so many opportunities to get involved at Notre Dame and you never know the experiences you might have.

I promise, the loneliness you feel at first will fade fast. Milestones will fly by – you’ll cheer at your first football game as a student, watch snow fall gently on the Main Building, dress up for your first SYR. You’re not sure exactly when it arrives, but the “feeling” you’ve envied in so many others makes its way to you, and you’ll know you’re home.

I know the beginning is rough, but there are so many exciting things ahead of you. From studying abroad in London to living with friends off-campus senior year, some of the best four years of your life are yet to come.

So relax and enjoy them.

Love,

Sara

A poem for my grandfather

IMG_2496.jpg

The painting you painted for me, and for my siblings, is unlike any other work you’ve ever done.

Different from your other pieces, which are so precise, relentlessly realistic, this painting is full of broad brush strokes, composed of love and light. The painting captures essence and exact truths fall away. Because when I look at this painting a C+ is an A+, a failure is a learning moment, and no matter what I say or do, I can do no wrong.

That’s a very special work of art to have.

This painting you painted for me reflects your humor, and just the sight of it makes me smile. And if this painting depicted you, it would capture your laugh, the endearing way your eyes creased when you told a joke, and the way you beamed when surrounded by family.

This painting began when I was born and grew into something magnificent, a mural expanding over the 28 years I’ve been alive. And no matter where I was or what I went through, when I looked up, this painting was there.

This painting you painted for me. In your humbleness you’d say it’s worth nothing but it’s the lens through which I see the world. And because of this painting, everything I see is colored by your kindness and your light.

This painting, Grandpa, is forever hanging in my heart.

Seen in Astoria…

A couple sits
In the corner of a dive bar
She’s smiling
Absentmindedly pushing around
Scrabble pieces
Rearranging the letters
Admiring her work.

He hardly notices what she’s doing
Because his eyes never leave hers
And in her presence
Everything else is a blur

Suddenly he checks his watch
They jump off their stools
And run out of the bar

Left behind are words unseen:

YOU
CHANGED
EVERYTHING

Poem: Decisions

Some are light and airy

As a feather

Inconsequential as

Blowing on a cottony dandelion

And watching the pieces

Float onto the grass.

 

But others

Others take all your energy

To even lift

To contemplation

And just when you know what to do

They change form

Slipping through your fingers

Like water

 

But the hardest part

If you’re anything like me

Isn’t the decision,

But the aftermath of one

 

When regret and anxiety

Swirl manically inside of you

Like a fan you can’t switch off

A fan that’s spinning so fast

You fear

It might become unhinged

 

The days flutter by

While this decision somehow

Shades every aspect of your life

Crawls into parts of your body

You didn’t know

Doubt could reach

 

Until one morning you wake

Look around

And feel a strange sense of

Serenity

Because finally

You and your decision

Are one.

Remember the small things

“How’s life?” they ask.

 “Life is pretty good,” I say. “Nothing to note, really.”

 Usually, everything is just status quo.

The funny thing is, the best things in life often take you by surprise—offering a minute or two of happiness that fades into the rest of the day. Sometimes, these little things don’t get the attention they deserve.

The first snowfall. Free pizza. A $20 bill that survives the wash in your pocket. Running into an old friend in a city of nine million people. Cursing the crowds in the subway, only to look up and see your favorite poem on the wall.

 A couple from college having their first baby. Listening to the rain while you’re cuddled under a blanket, nursing a cup of tea. Driving on an open road with the windows down and music blasting.

When any Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls, or Third Eye Blind song plays at the bar.

 A letter from a friend…in the mail.

A brilliant summer sunset that catches you off guard. Going to work on a “bad” hair day but getting more compliments on your hair than ever. Going out for a run and feeling a surge of energy, like your legs aren’t even yours, like you could keep running forever.

A conversation with a younger sibling and feeling overwhelming pride at the person they’ve become.

The realization that someone you like, but never thought you would be with, likes you too.

So often we “create” happiness—planning for vacations, weekends, dinners out with friends. We anticipate exciting things like a new job, an engagement, a move to another city, or other major life events that will lift our spirits for months at a time and change our outlook. But so many of life’s joys are unexpected. They’re threaded right into the fabric of the day along with the stresses and monotony. The smaller moments that happen so fast are among the happiest moments of all. We just didn’t think to take pictures of them or write them down.

 “How’s life?” they ask.

 “Life is good. Life is great,” I’ll say next time. Because I know it’s not always full of dramatic ups and downs that make for great stories on the phone.

Most of life is filled with little details we choose to either remember, or let slip away.

But together, they add up to something incredible.

Together they add up to a pretty good life.

Poem: A Smile

Every day I saw you

Straight-faced

Tight-lipped

I’d smile, say hello

Nothing

So I decided

Why should I bother?

 

I didn’t notice

When you were gone

Then they told me

You were sick for months

Finally succumbing

To a disease

That caused so much pain

 

And I thought to myself

You never really know

What someone’s going through

 

I thought to myself

What could it have hurt

To smile once a day

Knowing I wouldn’t get

A smile in return.

Home in the heartland

This essay was awarded honorable mention in Notre Dame Magazine’s 2017 Young Alumni Essay Contest. It was originally published at magazine.nd.edu

My final night in Toledo, Ohio, I climbed up to the roof of my apartment building to watch the sunset. Brilliant orange hues silhouetted everything below the horizon a dark, velvety black, and only the banks poked above the skyline. The colors were bright and bold, beckoning me to stay.

Straight in front of me on North Superior Street, I could see the old newspaper building where I’d spent long hours that summer covering everything from robberies to school board meetings to controversial city investments. From above, the streets looked clean and still and silent, but I knew that was far from true. Up on the rooftop, I couldn’t see trash rolling through the roads or crooked “for sale” signs hanging in dusty windows. I couldn’t see the crime, deterioration and poverty, all hidden in plain sight.

I lived that summer in a building that once housed the famous LaSalle & Koch Department Store, and until 1984, one of the largest Macy’s stores outside of New York City. It had since been converted into massive loft apartments, but you could still see the Macy’s sign painted on one side, like a faded tattoo. As I watched the sunset that night on the roof while a couple on the far side clinked Coronas, I thought about my three months in Toledo. I’d been intensely lonely and completely out of my comfort zone, but reporting stories throughout Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan solidified a longer relationship I’d been building with the Midwest as a region, a fascination with the place and its history.

I knew I’d come back. After all, there were more stories to tell.

The first time I connected with the Midwest was through the words of Nebraskan poet Ted Kooser, when I was 16. I picked up one of his collections at a book festival near my home in New Jersey and couldn’t stop reading — the poems were nothing like what I’d read in school. His words were simple, beautiful and timeless. I did not find out until later that Kooser was in fact Poet Laureate of the United States at the time, the first selected from the Great Plains.

Kooser’s poems, with titles like “Dishwater” and “Creamed Corn,” find beauty in the mundane. Kooser takes basic daily occurrences and shows that just beneath the surface of everything and everyone is something extraordinary. He changed my perspective on what constitutes great writing. Now, I believe great writing is found not necessarily in complex plots or exotic settings but in people — their histories, struggles and challenges. And no region in America exemplifies this kind of writing better than the Midwest. Think Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, a classic depiction of small-town America, or Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. The Midwest, of course, is vast and varied, but a common theme fueling its literature is a strong sense of place and a focus on the people who live there.

Another aspect of the Midwest that makes it ripe for great writing is its relationship with the past. While New York City, my current home, paints over the past as quickly as it can build new skyscrapers, the past seems to linger in the Midwest. When I lived in Toledo, everywhere I went I could see remnants of a time long gone — beautiful Victorian houses slowly decaying, an old theater that sat empty most nights, even hot dog joints that opened in the 1920s and haven’t changed much since. Toledo’s past hovers over every street, over every building that was once grand and isn’t anymore. In Rust Belt cities like Toledo, the past is so present, it’s almost a character in its own right.

I spent my formative years in the Midwest, and only after five years of living in New York City do I understand how much that impacted me — as a writer and as a person. Both sides of my family are from Brooklyn, New York — I have no roots in America’s heartland. But after four years at college at Notre Dame in South Bend, a few weeks in Iowa City in high school and, of course, my summer in Toledo, the Midwest now feels like home.

The region is a crossroads of cultural influences, but I believe it shares some common characteristics. For one, the land is mainly flat, surrounded by the Rockies on the West and Appalachians on the East, giving the region its distinguishing wide-open feel. While the small agricultural towns of the Great Plains differ immensely from the Rust Belt cities of the Great Lakes, I’ve found Midwesterners to be politer and more community-oriented than their counterparts on the East Coast. And while, in New York, most people come from somewhere else to achieve and transform, Midwesterners have a strong sense of identity and pride in their roots.

So which region better reflects me as an individual? The self-assured, quieter Midwest, or the more rushed, aggressive Northeast? Right now, I don’t long to live in the Midwest — I’m happy where I am, in a city that simultaneously excites and exhausts me. But every time I arrive back to Ohio or Indiana or Iowa, a part of me feels at peace. I love the predictability of main streets, the kindness of the people, and the brilliant summer sunsets that soar on for miles into the distance because the topography offers so few disruptions. Being in the Midwest reminds me there’s so much more to America than I know.

One summer morning in New York, I was on a subway train so packed that I couldn’t even put my left foot down — all of the floor space was taken up. After about 10 minutes of this discomfort, a woman in front of me got off the train, revealing one of my favorite poems by Kooser, “A Winter Morning,” on a billboard where advertisements usually go on the subway walls:

A farmhouse window far back from the highway

speaks to the darkness in a sure, small voice.

Against this stillness, only a kettle’s whisper,

and against this starry cold, one small blue ring of flame.

That poem greeted me like the familiar smile of someone you haven’t seen in a long time, and for a moment, the oppressive heat and crush of people vanished. Kooser’s words were a small but comforting reminder of my connection to somewhere else.

I know I’ll travel the long, flat roads back to America’s heartland again, before the future finally steamrolls its lingering past. I want to drive around the region, listen to the stories to be told there, learn more about these cities and where they’re headed. Maybe those wide roads will take me out to the rolling cornfields of Nebraska, or back to my former homes in Toledo or South Bend. But for now, I’ll find my Midwest haven in the worlds of Kooser and Robinson and Anderson, and escape, through their stories, to the places that have become a part of me, while the sirens of New York City wail incessantly outside.

Poem: After Stella

Seen along the East River pathway near Carl Schurz Park, after Winter Storm Stella.

walking the winding

east river path 

just after snowfall

a few people

scattered here and there

weak, distant lights

straining to be seen

 

right where the path turns

i see a ballerina

dancing alone,

seizing solitude,

her arms fighting

the pull of the wind

 

though she has no audience

empty benches 

line up to watch her

and the river reflects 

her every move

 

as i approach her stage

she catches my eye 

stopping, for a moment 

than completing her pirouette 

 

twirl, bend, twirl, bend, twirl

moving gracefully into the night 

 

no music

just the silence of the city

and the crunch of the snow

beneath her feet 

How the iPhone has changed the way we communicate

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in the New York Women in Communications Aloud blog.

iphone

Since Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone back on Jan. 9, 2007, one billion devices have been sold worldwide, revolutionizing the entire mobile phone industry. It’s not a stretch to say that the iPhone — which Jobs defined at its introduction as three devices in one, “a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone and a breakthrough internet communications device” with its many iterations over the years — has changed the world and fundamentally altered the way we communicate.

The iPhone has made employees more connected than ever. Email and calendars are easily accessed on-the-go, and push notifications ensure we never miss a message or an appointment. We’re hyper connected 24/7, responding faster than we ever have. Many people I know use their personal iPhone for business rather than have a separate work phone: The iPhone has blurred the line between work and personal life.

And then there’s texting. I’ve been texting since my preteen years but not texting in paragraph-long spurts the way I do now. Remember those QWERTY keyboards? And word limits? They made texting more of a novelty than a primary form of communication. In the fall of 2008, just one year after the iPhone hit the markets, Nielsen reported that texting increased by 450% from the same period in 2006. With the iPhone’s touchscreen and easy-to-use interface, texting has now become as natural as speaking.

The iPhone changed how we browse the Internet: We’re connected 24/7, either through WiFi or a cellular network. This means we are constantly consuming information and value being connected to the virtual world around us — but not necessarily the people around us. We’re scrolling through our phones at bars, at dinner, while walking or while riding the bus. Moments of down time are filled by looking at our phones, allowing for fewer personal interactions on the go.

The iPhone also fueled the rise of social media. Snapchat, of course, is mobile-only, Instagram is mobile-first and more than 90% of Facebook’s daily active users access the platform via mobile. We broadcast vacations and nights out by taking photos on our phones and instantly sharing them through an app. We check and post news in real time through Twitter. We share live video and funny moments we eventually want to disappear. The iPhone is an active participant in our lives and the catalyst behind most of our social interactions, real and digital.

I was a latecomer to the iPhone revolution. I bought my first iPhone in 2012, five years after its release, when I realized my Samsung “smart” phone was completely obsolete. But now I can’t imagine life without it. My iPhone is my calendar, my alarm clock, my camera, my calculator, my travel companion and my GPS system. It’s how I communicate with friends and family, find out the weather, jot down notes for stories, post to social media and pay for my coffee. My iPhone is where I get my news, my bus tickets, my restaurant recommendations and my music.

And sometimes — but rarely — my iPhone is just my phone.