Thursday, February 13, 2014

Is Anybody There?

As an introvert, I tend to overanalyze social interactions. Walking down the block and seeing someone come towards me is exquisite torture. "Okay, I should smile and make eye contact, but I can't start from too far away or else I'll look a little crazy, so not yet . . . not yet . . . wait, now she's too close, quick, quick, smile! You forgot to make eye contact! Why didn't you wear sunglasses?!" 

There is a girl who davens in my shul; we aren't exactly pals, but we know of each other. One day I was getting off public transportation and saw her, but since she had her hair dramatically redone I didn't quite recognize her. In any case, her mouth quirked into a tentative smile when she saw me. 

That should have been sufficient gesture for me to respond. But I was tired and bummed from another "charming" date, and I just plain and pashut didn't feel like it. There she was, trying to connect, while I stared back blankly. 

People don't need to be told twice. The next time we met, I was apologetically smiling my head off, but she averted her gaze. She had reached out, and I had scorned her. 

We just don't have the liberty of indulging in "bad days." If we do, we simply turn it into something contagious. 

I was guiltily reminded of this when reading "Why I Silence Your Call, Even When I'm Free" by Caeli Wolfson Widger. She confesses a dislike for answering her phone, preferring convenient texts.
Until one day her cousin called, and she didn't pick up, even though she was very much available. A voicemail was left, but she didn't listen to it. It was only after she eventually talked to her cousin (when a time was arranged by text) that she heard the message: Her cousin, fearful, alone, and crying, had been seeking compassion and contact, and she didn't pick up. 
Hearing that message slammed me with guilt. When had I become a person who prioritized emotional convenience over the needs of those closest to me? Because really, that’s what my phone avoidance is about: delaying the on-the-spot engagement required by another human voice. I’d been coasting along on what seems like a new norm: Nobody picks up. Why should I?
Lesson learned, I resolved to change. Unless I was legitimately occupied, I promised myself I would start picking up the phone whenever it rang, regardless of any disruption the conversation might bring. I would become a more spontaneous, generous friend. 
But she had already taught the world otherwise; don't bother calling Caeli, she doesn't answer. Git morgen, she discovered that she should be present and available, only too late; family and friends had moved on a long time back, finding other sources of support. 

I am truly not a phone person, either with talking or with texting. But I have a friend who calls, and while it's still not the medium I prefer I a make a point to overcome those tendencies and be there when she is hurting or happy. 

No one likes being made to feel stupid after displaying vulnerability and being ignored. I certainly don't. So I better get my discipline together and be present and available, "bad day" regardless.


Tovah11 said...

We all have those people whom, when we see their number on the caller ID, just let it go.

I don't mind answering the call, it's the time consumed on said phone call.

The conversation goes on and on after I subtly convey that I really need to go, They never acknowledge that and I'm on the phone for an hour.

Princess Lea said...

Perhaps I should have been honest that if I know I won't be able to give the caller the time necessary, I don't pick up. I hate having to say, "Yeah, um, that's great, but I kinda have to . . ."