Hangin’ on the telephone The gifts of time, the phone, and joyful noise

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| UNDER THE SHELTERING SKY

This is one of a series of first-person accounts of how COVID-19 and shelter-in-place orders around Monterey Bay are affecting us all. If you would like to share your thoughts about living under the sheltering sky send your essay to us at admin@vomb.org.

By Kathryn McKenzie

Like you, me, and everybody else we know, my life was full to the point of ridiculousness before the coronavirus came along. I had places to go. Things to do. People to see. Busy, busy, busy.

Perhaps like you, I wasn’t generally seeing who I really wanted to see, or talking to those I really wanted to talk to. Oh sure, I wanted to, but everyone always seemed so … busy. Like there wasn’t room for me in their lives, or room for them in mine.

It got so I didn’t want to bother anyone for a mere get-together, just to talk. I hated to even try to ask an old friend to go to lunch: “Oh boy, I’m just booked solid this month — maybe we should look at 2021?”

And then, the shelter-in-place order came down, and suddenly life became a smaller circle of existence.

It’s taken me a few weeks to adjust to this. I’m still busy, sure, still writing and editing from home — I’m one of the lucky ones who has been doing business remotely for a while —  but I’ve been sleeping in more. Even napping on occasion. Stopping to observe the clouds, a new flower, a hummingbird whizzing by. The pace of life has turned down a significant notch.

And now, I call people.

Just to chat. Just to check in and say, “How are you holding up?” or “What’s it like where you are?” Just because I was thinking about them and wanted to say howdy. Just because I want to hear the voice of someone dear to me.

It reminds me of being a teenager again and calling friends to talk about nothing at all, or all the nothings that make a something.

Having time to talk to the people I love is an unexpected gift in this time of pandemic.

It reminds me of being a teenager again and calling friends to talk about nothing at all, or all the nothings that make a something. We would spend hours with phone pressed up against our ears, giggling. What on earth did we talk about? I honestly can’t remember.

And then in my 20s, working at a series of low-paying but exciting reporting jobs, stuck out in the hinterlands somewhere. My journalist friends were doing the same thing, moving up the ladder or switching jobs, somewhere far away. It was long before email and social media. We’d pick up the phone and call one another.

These days, with so many ways to reach people, the ordinary phone call has been downgraded. There’s Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and messaging of different stripes, but they are chilly ways to communicate. A voice, on the other hand, carries all the emotion that gets overlooked in our superficial digital dialogue.

Remember the old AT&T advertising slogan, “Reach Out and Touch Someone”? Even if we can’t literally touch someone right now, reaching out via telephone is not to be underestimated. I had forgotten how lovely a good phone conversation can be.

In the past, I tried to make time to talk to my parents once a week. Now, I call them every day, since they’re shut in and lonely in a way they’ve never been. We talk about books, the weather, whatever. The important thing is that I’m hearing them. And they’re hearing me.

I’m calling people who I haven’t talked to in years, and we laugh and cry about the time that’s gone by. We’ve kept track of each other, to be sure, through LinkedIn or Facebook or whatever. But we haven’t actually talked.

I am now greatly tempted to do a video chat with someone, and I’m hosting a Zoom happy hour for some family members this week, including those both near and far. It will be great to see them — and hear them.

And to have the time, finally, to really listen.

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Kathryn McKenzie

About Kathryn McKenzie

Kathryn McKenzie grew up in Santa Cruz, worked for the Monterey Herald for 10 years, and now freelances for a variety of publications and websites.