Many of you know that I wrote recently that my friend Peter is dying. What I didn’t tell you was what happened right after I found out about this news.
The gist is this: My husband Ray withheld from me for two days the news of Peter’s terminal illness. I was working long hours with several students on their final college term papers and Ray waited until the last paper was turned in before sitting down and telling me. He knew I was going to be very sad about this news so in his words, “I didn’t think waiting two days to tell you would make a huge difference in the big picture.” I understood his logic and appreciated his sensitivity to my work situation, but I also felt terrible that I had not yet called Peter or his partner, Jan.
I immediately telephoned Jan and got the lowdown on the situation. The diagnosis was terminal with Peter having less than 6 months to live. Jan is a hospice nurse by profession so this information was relayed in a calm and emotion-free voice. I asked about calling Peter and Jan said, “By all means. He’ll be happy to hear from you.”
Once I hung up the phone, I sat for a minute absorbing the information and steeling myself for my call to Peter. Vowing to stay calm, I dialed his number only to get an automated voice mail message. At the beep, I said, “Peter, I’ve heard the news.” At this point, much to my chagrin, I burst into tears and cried for at least a full minute. I didn’t want to do this or mean to do this. After all, I am aware that my phone call was supposed to offer comfort, not cause distress. I told Peter in the message that I loved him and he was in my prayers, then left my return phone number and hung up. As soon as I was off the phone I started kicking myself. How could I have done that crybaby thing? Peter needed strength, not a meltdown. I was extremely annoyed with myself that I went straight to tears instead of keeping myself together.
A few minutes later, I heard the ding on my phone that meant I had a text.
The text read: I am so sorry you are sad. However, I am not Peter. You dialed the wrong number.
I was horrified that I had left that pathetic message on a total stranger’s voicemail. How awful. But I was secretly relieved that poor Peter had not heard my message.
I immediately texted the anonymous person back and apologized for his having to hear my distressing message.
He wrote back instantly and said, “I am deeply sorry for your loss. No problem at all.”
At this point, I had to laugh. What a nice person to absorb all my pain with not a shred of malice. I screwed up my courage and re-called Peter, this time verifying his number very carefully.
“Hello, Peter,” I said, “how are you doing, my friend?”
“Aw, Len, so good to hear from you.”
I must say that it almost felt as if there was a bit of divine intervention when it came to my misdial. I am glad that my actual interaction with Peter was straightforward and calm, nothing like my emotion-soaked message.
There are those who would say that it wouldn’t have hurt Peter one bit to hear the sadness I was feeling. After all, he might actually have appreciated knowing how much he is loved by me. This is unarguably true, it probably would have been all right had my call gone directly to him. However, my experience with those who are dying is that they regard the dying process in extremely practical terms, and overwrought emotions are seen as an irritant, not a great help.
Luckily for Peter and unluckily for the anonymous recipient of that message, I was able to purge my emotion before actually speaking to Peter.
As for that man who texted me back, his sensitivity was laudable and also greatly appreciated.
He clarified for me that there are truly good people out in the world.
Thank God for the kindness of strangers.