Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Just the Right Touch

Maybe the old-fashioned phone call can still be the best choice for adding just the right touch for isolated and socially-starved people.

Yesterday, I received what seemed like a routine phone call from our company's insurance broker. She had already sent out an email announcing her retirement at the end of this year, outlining her plans for continuing services for her customers. Naturally, I assumed the call would follow up on those details, but it didn't; she was just calling to see how we are doing in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.

Although we have a friendly relationship stretching over years, it was nice to talk, despite—or perhaps because of—the current situation. It doesn't matter how much people usually keep themselves isolated at their work space, cubicle, or office—when they have to stay put in place, it becomes an entirely different matter. No taking a coffee break from this assignment.

In the phone call, we discussed reaching out to touch base with everyone we know. While I have been yearning to get back in touch with those I know, this woman took action. In her additional role as the head of a nonprofit women's organization, she urged her board to reach out and call each member of their group, just to see how everyone was doing. What the board discovered, in gradually rolling out those calls to members, was that as we all move further into the timeline of this crisis, personal outlook and situations change. What might have been a "no-problem" shrug at the beginning of this quarantine has, for many, turned into a "how are we going to" worry by the end of the second week.

While we have no end of social messaging apps at our fingertips now, isn't it interesting how just being able to have a real-time conversation with another real, live person by such an old-fashioned method can be so comforting? I wonder how many people have made more phone calls to relatives now, in these few weeks, than they have for quite some time, before all this struck us. Of course, I've called my sister quite a few times, so I wouldn't use that as a gauge of how our behavior has changed, but I sure have talked with my first cousin once removed more in these two weeks than for quite some time. And I'm thinking of all those other cousins and once-removeds than I have before.

Of course, phone calls are so much more ephemeral than the comfort-conversation our ancestors might have employed during times of high stress. Those of us who have had letter-writing champions among our forebears can attest to how much could become preserved in family history when a pen and paper were the only ways to express—or soothe—angst among family members and friends in previous centuries. Once the phone call is over, the details can easily vanish; there is no trail to follow.

Yet, it is the old-fashioned phone call which, in our current situation, can bring a substitutionary feeling to those of us who most keenly feel the deprivation of not being able to gather together. While some say they are reveling in all the spare time they can devote to the solitary pursuit of building out their family tree, I suspect we all need some sort of counter-balance to that isolation eventually. If genealogy is your passion, take some time to push away from your computer and reach out to talk to a genea-friend, or compare notes with a real live person who is also researching your family's lines. Check in on the other members of your special interest group at your genealogical society. Do something that requires talking to another person.

We may not be able to actually reach out and touch another human being, but at least we can keep in "touch" with our voice through a good conversation. It is, after all, one of the ways that makes us uniquely human.


  1. :) I have been calling the elderly and checking on them...sometimes that is very frustrating as their cleaning lady was there....shaking head:(

    1. Some people are just not getting it. Or thinking the risk is over-exaggerated. Or downright defiant, as I saw for news reports last weekend about one coffee shop owner and (sadly) an entire church congregation.


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