The phone rang.
And my stomach turned cold.
I held my breath.
My heart beat faster.
I tried to calm my heart so I could listen and watch for any signs that something might be wrong.
Oh, it was just a phone call about softball practice.
Everything was fine. Everyone is okay.
I didn’t know why I always tensed up and fear shot through my stomach and heart each time the phone rang. Zach never looked terrified when his phone rang. Why wasn’t he panicking?
Why was I panicking? Why was my body always reacting as if something alarming had happened on the other end of the phone?
I know I don’t like loud noises and phones can ring pretty loud but it wasn’t that. It seemed every time the phone rang I tensed up in fear just waiting for sad news. I knew something bad had happened.
It wasn’t until a few days ago when I wasn’t totally thinking about this strange, fearful reaction that the answer hit me upside the head making everything so much clearer.
We didn’t really receive phone calls as I was growing up. We had a landline phone – before cell phones – but since we lived in Africa making and receiving phone calls was very expensive. Every minute was charged. So we didn’t call people and people didn’t call us. Unless something bad happened.
Big Bill is in the hospital. He almost died and they don’t think he’ll make it. And you’re not there to hug Zach.
Grandpa had another stroke. It doesn’t look good. Grandma’s okay. We’ll let you know more later. What if later is too late?
Aunt Kimmey has a bad form of cancer. She’s taking treatments. But we need to pray. Because that’s all you can do.
Aunt Janie has brain cancer. They didn’t give her very long to live. Will you see her again?
Your two dogs died of tick bite fever even though you just saw them a few days ago and they were fine.
Your Grandpa had another stroke again. It’s worse than before. He may be waiting to say goodbye. You might have to come home again even though you just got home.
Your Aunt Vickie is in the hospital and your cousin Emilee needs you. But your 8,729 miles away.
Your friend’s father just died suddenly. And you can’t comfort her.
Because calling long distance cost so much money, people only called when really important things happened. And usually really important things were really bad things. Or maybe I just remember the really bad, scary things. I do remember a “Happy Birthday” call but that didn’t happen every year like birthdays do. And the bad hits cruelly. With the “Happy Birthday” call at least everyone was celebrating, wishing they could be there with you. But when the other, more frequent calls came, there was nothing you could do. You weren’t there to comfort and you weren’t there to say goodbye if necessary. You were thousands of miles away.
I think that was the problem. I was being informed of things happening an ocean away that I could do nothing about except sit in fear and suspense and pray. It wasn’t like we could just drive down to the hospital and see things for ourselves. No, one phone call could uproot my whole world. There would be plane tickets to buy, packing to do, plans to store our stuff somewhere, finding someone to guard our house and take care of our animals? What would happen to my cat Gray? I just got back. We were just united again. He was ten years old and I knew my constant leaving him was taking his breathe away a little at a time. It was taking mine away. He was my best friend. He was there when no one was. I didn’t have friends but he sat with me. He laid on my paper when I colored. He covered up the words of my Bible and books I tried to read with his paw as if he wanted to know too. He knew when I was sad and he just rubbed against me trying to cheer me up. He laid with me when I was sick and couldn’t move letting me know I would be okay. He slept on my pillow every night and was my alarm clock for school in the morning. Even on Saturdays. It was difficult for him to learn Saturdays were okay to sleep in on. He was my protector from scorpions and centipedes and my comforter. Anytime I packed a bag he climbed in it. And when I came home after furlough he literally hugged my neck and would not let me go. He was my best friend. He’d been with me from the beginning. Born under my bed when I was five and my traveling buddy to our new life. My constant friend. I loved him and I knew he loved me.
I remember one time we had just got settled in a place to stay after we had been gone for a long time and had just gotten into the slow flow of things again when we got a call one night that my Grandpa had a bad stroke. They thought he was dying and waiting on my dad to come back and say goodbye. I was terrified. Not because of my Grandpa. I was sad for him but I didn’t really know him. I knew my dad was sad and worried but he had reason to be. I heard my parents talking on the porch about what we might have to do. I went to the door shaking – I can still feel my heart pounding and my fingers have started shaking writing this- I went to the screen door. My dad said we might have to go back. And I dreadingly fearfully asked, “What will happen to Gray?” I knew in my heart it was not the right thing to say but I was terrified. And you will probably think it was selfish of me to be concerned about my “stupid cat” rather than my grandfather. My dad certainly made it clear he thought so. And maybe you all are right.
But it was more than that. I instantly started crying and apologizing. I saw the disappointed faces and heard the disappointed thoughts. But I couldn’t put into words all I was crying to say. So I went back to my bed and prayed for my Grandfather to get better. Because I did not want to leave again.
I think this call was the epitome of why I get struck with fear every time the phone rings. Even now. Throughout the following days we waited for the call. The call that would deliver the bad news or the call that would call us home. Or both. But we were never called to come “home.” So I didn’t have to leave home. And I felt relieved. But I still felt at fault. Like it was because of my selfishness that my grandfather didn’t die and my dad knew it. I knew that he would carry my selfishness with him for years and that he would blame me if Grandpa did pass and we weren’t there. It was my fault. It was always my fault.
So today, when the phone rings, all those fears and feelings come flooding back in. I expect bad news because that’s what I always heard after the phone rang. But realizing this and knowing this now I hope will help me stop panicking even though I don’t know what is happening on the other end. I have to tell myself “It’s okay now. You’re here. You’re home. You life will not be uprooted to a different life a thousand miles away. You’re not leaving anything behind.” Even though I won’t have to uproot my home there still will be calls that uproot my heart with pain. And still all I can do is pray. Even though I’m here now. But in the meantime I’m trying to teach myself that not every call is bad and scary. Just because the phone rings does not mean there is bad news on the other end.