Photograph and text © 2007 by Julius Lester
I transferred names last night from my old address book to a new one. But changing address books is more than the copying names, addresses, and phone numbers.
For one thing people have more than one phone number these days. My oldest son has four – home, 2 at work, and a cell number. Today’s address books also have spaces for a fax number, e-mail address, and web site. Transferring information from one book to another is more work than it used to be. You have to be very important to me to write down all that information plus your name, address, city, and 9-digit zip code.
Changing address books is also a time to evaluate what place people have in your lives. As you look at each name you think about the person, your relationship, how often you’ve been in touch with each other. Sometimes there is a small stab of pain when you come to the name of someone who died.
There is a twinge of regret when you decide not to transfer someone to the new address book. My reason for not transferring a name was the simple one of realizing that I had not been in touch with the person since putting their name in my address book.
However, I have kept every address book I’ve had throughout my adult life. It is a record of people who were important to me at one time, of people I loved but somehow we lost each other in the maelstrom of our lives, and of people who have died.
What I noticed last night was how the number of names has dwindled over the years. Even allowing for friends whose numbers I know, allowing for people whose numbers are in the phone book, and allowing for the number of people with whom I e-mail, there aren’t many names in my new address book.
I’m not sure what that means. Perhaps the dwindling number of names is one symptom of how I am entering old age. For me this is the time when I withdraw into myself without explanation or apology. This is the time of life I think I’ve always longed for, the time when I can be still. To be still means weeks pass and no one calls me, and I call no one. To be still means that months pass, and no one is invited to my house. My primary human contact is through e-mail, even with old friends who visit the area and want to see me. I have longed for such solitude all of my life, even in childhood.
An important part of possessing this solitude is having an address book I will seldom use.
WHAT I'M OUTRAGED ABOUT THIS WEEK
From a front page article in the New York Times, Thursday, October 11, 2007 on the number of Americans who do not have access to dental care.
"A child in Mississippi and another in Maryland died this year from infections caused by decayed teeth." p. 1
This phrase describes an "illness" we have all suffered from but did not know it had been put into words:
the hardly able fever
"I had so much to do I came down with the hardly able fever."