I know that I have received good news via the telephone. I have, on a number of occasions, won tickets to concerts as well as the home version of Jeopardy by knowing how to operate this telecommunications device. That and a rudimentary knowledge of pop culture that has also held me in good stead lo these many years. I have connected with old friends and talked at length with family about matters every bit as trivial as the winner of the first Grammy award, but the connections made have been vital. I periodically enjoy my chats with strangers, having taken the time to participate in a number of public opinion surveys and the occasional wrong number. Telephones can be cool.
They can also be harbingers of doom. A great abundance of the bad news that has come my way over the course of my life has come over the telephone line. The death of a loved one is the bottom line in this category. It is a rare thing to be present at the moment of someone's passing, and therefore the phone becomes the tool of choice when it comes time to spread the news. It is more personal by yards compared to an e-mail. But any conversation that begins with the phrase, "Are you sitting down?" paves the way for a less than pleasant interaction. This is the introduction to a conversation that you probably don't really want to have. It has been my sad duty now on a few different occasions to be the one initiating those conversations. "Hello, I just called to say that the rest of your day and perhaps the rest of your life will be altered by what you are about to hear." Telemarketers would like you to believe that the drape cleaning service they are about to offer you is just that, but these are the phone calls that come from the people you already know. I am also the very bad son who chose to relay the message to my father that his father had passed away in Salina, Kansas by shouting up the stairs, "Hey Dad, Ira kicked the bucket."
In what little defense I might add to this callous, teenaged response, I can only say that I had only seen my grandfather one time, and all the rest of my life was spent hearing stories about how much distance there was between my father and him. No excuse, really, and I learned from every time that moment came up in discussion with my father. I completely deserved someone calling to tell me that my father had "kicked the bucket." Instead, I was the beneficiary along with the rest of my family of a very compassionate and caring call from the hospital that told me he was gone. But it was a phone call.
My wife got one of those calls the other day. The treasurer of the PTSA with whom she had worked tirelessly over the past two years had died in his sleep. As president of the PTSA, it was then her job to be the voice at the other end of the line when she let the rest of the school community know. It was sad. It was tragic. It was a series of very uncomfortable phone calls. She performed admirably. At no time did any part of the "bucket" phrase get kicked around. Calm, measured and respectful. I was proud of her. If good news travels fast, it could be that sad news is more clumsy and more deliberate. I hope whoever has to make the calls for me is as patient and kind.