Michelle Martin

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

When I first got a cell phone, more than 20 years ago now, I’d answer it every time it rang.

Part of it was that no one had the number unless I gave it to them, but part of that was that it was just what you did then: If the phone rang, you answered it. Caller ID was an add-on to your home phone service that you had to pay for, and people who screened their calls — that is, let an actual answering machine pick up, and broadcast the message as it was being left to the entire room — before deciding whether to answer were considered rude.

Back then, when I wanted to interview someone, I would pick up the phone and call. Maybe they would talk to me on the phone right then, or maybe they’d tell me a time to call back, or a time I could come and see them in person. If they weren’t home, maybe they had an answering machine so I could leave a message, but maybe not. Maybe I’d just have to try again another time.

Now, most phone interviews I do are arranged in advance, usually by email. That’s the case even when people are happy to talk, when I’m trying to help them share the good news about what their parish or school or organization is doing. They don’t feel like they have a spare 15 or 20 minutes anytime the phone happens to ring. There’s always something else to get to.

By the same token, I don’t often answer my cell phone if I don’t know who is calling. Too often, it is a telemarketer, someone wanting to tell me how to consolidate my credit card debt (I only have one credit card) or sell me siding (I don’t own a house). Or it’s a wrong number.

If it’s someone who actually wants to talk to me, I figure they’ll leave a message. If not, it probably wasn’t important. Of course, those rules don’t go for everyone; if one of my kids or my husband calls when I actually can’t pick up the phone, I’ll call them back, message or not.

In some ways, despite the way we’re all accessible all the time, we’re less open to hearing from people we don’t know, less open to conversations we don’t expect.

We’ve lost something, I think, in our effort to not waste time listening to telemarketers try to sell us products we don’t need, at best, or scam us out of our money, at worst. If we only listen to what we were expecting to hear anyway, how will we learn anything new? Are our hearts and minds also closed to what God is trying to tell us?

I don’t think I’ll start answering calls from random numbers, especially those that are remarkably similar to mine or those that my carrier designates as “Likely Fraud.” But I will try to keep my eyes and ears open — and my heart and mind — in hopes of seeing and hearing what it is I’ve been missing.



  • family life