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Dr. Irene S. Levine Headshot

Friendship, Caring, and "The Call List"

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As soon as my brother-in-law learned that my mother's health was declining, Don responded by putting her on his Saturday morning "call list." Every weekend, Don places calls to a growing list of friends and relatives who are housebound, lonely, and/or ill. His uplifting phone calls aren't obligatory. He calls because he cares and is genuinely interested in listening to people and helping them solve or better cope with their problems.

Some people live very lonely lives. Last week a 78-year-old retired New York City schoolteacher, named Jane Wild, who lived in a white Cape Cod in my own hamlet (Chappaqua, New York) was found dead in her second-floor bathroom. The local online newspaper reported that Wild was a recluse with few friends and no family except for a sister who lived with her, until she died in 1985. Since then, Jane was only known to have received occasional visits from a male friend, who died last summer. What made the story all the more remarkable was that Jane Wild had been dead for at least six months before anyone even noticed -- this, despite the fact that her utilities had been turned off and mail had accumulated to the point where her mailbox was so stuffed that the mailman stopped delivering. No neighbors had thought to check on her.

Like hand-penned letters, the number of phone calls being made is decreasing relative to other types of electronic communications. There was a time -- before email and faxes -- when many workers had long "call lists" on their desks with the names of colleagues they planned to contact the next morning. Now people are more likely to text, IM, tweet, or use email, depending on their age and personal preference. The contact may take place while they are walking down a city street, or riding in a car or train. People tend to multi-task rather than listen to the person at the other end of the phone with full attention.

Phone calls, even perfunctory ones, may have already become altogether passé. My twenty-something son, like a growing number of Americans, doesn't own a landline. He recently told me that he rarely initiates cell phone calls (yes, he still gets them from me!) except when there's a problem with his bank account or cable TV.

Yet a simple phone call with a warm voice at the other hand can change a person's day. I'm amazed at how Don's phone calls can perk up my mom's spirits, albeit for a short time. It makes you wonder if each of us should have a Saturday morning "call list" to express our affection for the people we truly care about.

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