Just between Us
Answering the Phone
I am not as good at keeping in touch with extended family and friends as I should be. I know I’m not alone in this department, but I have my own reasons for faltering. Many of these reasons—OK, excuses—are predictable, but they are real nonetheless. Some include never finding the time, being busy with the kids, dealing with different time zones and just not having the emotional energy. My less obvious explanations run deeper.
For starters, with relatives I’ve lost touch with, I have more than once experienced very tiring guilt trips for not calling them more often. That’s not so surprising, given they spend the first five minutes of our precious talking time reminding me of how long it’s been since I’ve called or making sarcastic remarks about me remembering who they are or how they barely recognize my voice. Armed with that knowledge, I put off such calls, avoiding, even dreading, the gentle but loaded little jabs. Guilty or not, who looks forward to being chastised rather than appreciated for just calling? Not me. And while I fully understand and value the importance of staying in touch with family (really, I do), and I don’t expect to be completely excused for rarely calling the elders, I inevitably think, geez, can’t they just be glad when I do call?
I experience fewer guilt trips with friends, but with family, I find the longer I go without connecting, the harder it is to pick up the phone. And then when I do, where to begin? Do I summarize my life over the past year or so, highlighting big events, Christmas-letter style? Or should I jump straight into current happenings, fast-forwarding to the present? Or should I go for the most important or weighty subjects so there’s no chance that our time together gets squandered on small talk? Of course, every now and then there is that gem of a person who requires no icebreaker, who can make me feel like no time has passed at all and with whom conversations just seem naturally meaningful. I’ve got his number memorized.
Besides wishing I were more in the habit of maintaining contact with various significant people in my life—the aunts, uncles, cousins (who don’t all e-mail) and college roommates—lately I’ve had a hankering to make contact with the passing acquaintances that I’ve known, people who have made an impact on me but whom I wouldn’t call “friends.” There’s the college professor who, with a simple sentence, gave me encouragement like no other; or a former boss I so admired or even the older kid in the neighborhood who was my summer firefly-catching partner. Who knows if I left an imprint on them as they did on me, but it’s funny how often I think of them and wonder where they are now. To find these people and give them a call would require even more extra time and energy that I’m still looking for.
As I was thinking of this shortcoming, I got a call from a high school friend who said she found an old photo of us and wondered how I was. It was that simple. We chatted effortlessly, so excited to be hearing each other’s voice again. I’ll never know if she procrastinated before calling me, but what I do know is that the gesture meant the world to me and that the joy of good conversation far outweighs the trouble it takes to make it happen.
The call from my old buddy was just the nudge I needed. Rather than overcomplicate and further delay making contact with people I care about, I became determined to follow in my friend’s footsteps and just pick up the darn phone. I’ve made one call already to a long-lost acquaintance and have no regrets. Who knows whom I’ll call next?
E-mail Gina Jaber at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—By Gina Jaber