Friday, March 28, 2014

Hanging Up On Fear

YI don't have very many pictures from my childhood. Unlike my own kids whose every waking (and the occasional sleeping) moment has been documented, uploaded to Facebook, and permanently entered in the digital records, I'm not sure my parents even owned a camera when I was born. They do have a drawer in the basement crammed with various snapshots from birthday parties and some painfully posed formal pics with the Olan Mills script stamped in gold across the bottom, but that's about it. And among those random snippets of childhood, crammed in between the family trip to Niagara Falls and the creepy late 1970s Easter Bunny was this shot.

Apparently, I liked to play with the phone as a toddler, a fact I find very odd since I later developed a a major aversion to the device. You see, I'm not exactly a phone person today. While you're all comparing apps and gigs and waiting in line for the new leopard print iPhone 87Q Titanium, I am perfectly content to hang with my trusty old not-so-smartphone.

It makes calls and sends texts… and that's only when I can find it… which is usually not when it is ringing or receiving a text.

I've had a smartphone when I was forced to for work, and I didn't like it. Too much of an electronic ball and chain, too much temptation to be Instagramming my life instead of living it. So it's bare bones phone for me. But even still, I have phone issues.

In the past few years, I've grown increasingly fearful of the phone. It seems like in today's text-heavy world of instant communication, the only time anyone ever calls is to deliver bad news, and lately I've had my share. So I started taking my anger out on an easy target- the phone. The mere sound of its ring (and there's only one on my outdated version) was enough to make my heart race. And instead of answering it, I'd glare at it, and then glare some more at the voicemail icon, sometimes taking days to work up the courage to listen to it. Upon entering the house, I'd obsessively check the home landline for both messages and missed calls, convinced that the bad news was just waiting for me to leave the house before it showed up.

But the worst times came overnight, when I would wake to see the phone on the bedside and instantly brace myself for what I assumed was to come. Many nights I stayed up for hours in a silent stare down with the phone, certain that the only way to keep it from ringing was to keep one eye trained on it at all times. I was locked in a tense standoff with myself, living in constant fear of the arrival of bad news… and the phone.

Then last month we took a family vacation- a Caribbean cruise. My biggest fear was not contracting some stomach virus, losing a child overboard, or running into trouble on the high seas (although I do question the cruise line's decision to air the movie Captain Phillips in an endless loop), but being out of phone's reach. You'd think this would be bliss for me, but the thought of being out of range in the event of the bad news I always anticipated, was terrifying.

With no telecommunications to monitor, I found myself with some time to read, and appropriately enough, the first book I turned to was all about phones. Mitch Albom's "The First Phone Call From Heaven" had sat idle on my Kindle since Christmas, but was quickly devoured as we sailed along.

It's a simple story with a powerful message: there are messages we need to hear- messages of hope, pain, love, grief, and forgiveness- and the phone is just one way we receive them, but what we choose to do with them comes down to faith. "What we give to fear, we take away from faith," Albom writes. I read that line over and over, repeating it to myself like a mantra throughout the trip. For the first time in years, I felt a sense of peace and calm, confident that what was inside of me was strong enough to handle whatever  the phone might potentially bring.

As we pulled into port early on the final day of the cruise, I slipped out of our cabin before dawn and took my phone with me on my morning run around the deck, knowing we were finally back in cell service range. With trembling hands and a pounding heart, I turned it on and saw the voicemail symbol spring to life.

I dialed it up, entered my password, and waited.

And then there was nothing. Nothing but a few work messages, a reminder from my dentist about an upcoming appointment, and an offer to lower my credit card payments. Tearfully, I hung up the phone and resisted the overwhelming urge to throw it overboard.

A few days after we returned, I received the call I'd been so dreading. A loved one was very ill, in critical condition. It was a horrible, awful phone call and an even more horrible, awful situation.

As I hung up the phone, it hit me- all those months of dreading the phone, all those sleepless nights, all that wasted energy will never come back. Dreading the calls doesn't allow you to avoid the truth. Being angry at the phone when you should be making peace with reality doesn't serve any purpose. Putting your life on hold for a call that may or may not come is no way to live.

Albom is right- "What we give to fear we take away from faith," and I'm not ready to be on the losing end of that equation.

So I think it's time to say goodbye to my phone-o-phobia and to work harder at muting my fears. When the phone rings, I will answer it. When it doesn't, I won't question it. Most of all, I won't center my life around it. Faith will win out over fear, because if it doesn't, then it isn't really faith.

But I'm still not upgrading my phone.

1 comment:

  1. Every time I'm compelled to give out my cell number (703-953-4872, if I can remember) I feel like I've been personally violated. Unless you happen to be married to me or have given birth to me, I wish you GOOD LUCK ever trying to get me to answer. With texting, e-mail, my fax number, my home address, and all of this information posted on Facebook, and that fact that I spend 40 hours a week sitting at a computer and next to 202-647-7588, I have ZERO sympathy for people who tell me who still tell me that it's hard to get in touch with me.