Mary Schmich: The pleasure of an unexpected phone call in the pandemic: ‘I just wanted to hear your voice’

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My phone rang out of the blue a couple of days ago.

“Mimi!” I said. Her name had appeared on the screen. “What a nice surprise. Are you OK?”

“I just wanted to hear your voice,” she said.

Mimi is my late brother Bill’s mother-in-law. She’s 93 and still lives at home, with help from family, in Colorado. Mimi and I don’t talk often, but whenever we do it’s with a familial ease. She’s one of those elderly people who seems as if she’s always been around and always will be. Like my own mother, she has the capacity for staying, or at least seeming, cheerful in any storm.

“I’m sitting on the porch,” Mimi said, “watching the world go by. It’s very quiet. Even the cars seem to be moseying.”

She laughed. “Is moseying a strange word to use?”

I told her I thought “moseying” was exactly the right way to describe the pace of our world right now, though it’s not the moseying of leisure, but enforced moseying with an eerie air.

The afternoon sun filtered through my living room window as we talked about the pandemic that has crashed the world. I said I felt fortunate that I’d lived my life without a public crisis of this magnitude. Mimi said she’d never seen anything like it either. I reminded her that she’d been a child during the Great Depression and a young woman during World War II, that she’d raised and supported seven kids as a working mother, that she’d survived all manner of hardships known to break people.

She laughed again and said, no, none of it had been all that hard, and that this moment, too, would settle into history.

“We’re going to be OK,” she said.

Her words washed over me like warm water.

“We are going to be OK, Mimi,” I said. “Eventually.”

She gave a big sigh. “Oh, I’m so glad you said that. It helps me believe it when I say it.”

I told her I could say it with more conviction because I’d heard her say it.

“Well,” she said a few minutes later, “I should let you go. I’m so glad to hear your voice.”

I was glad to hear her voice, too, and when our conversation was done, the world seemed a little brighter, our exchange of voices like a bridge from the past to the present to a future that would be OK.

The pandemic we’re living through has sparked many “out of the blue” calls like the one I got from Mimi. I’ve heard several people say they’ve talked more on the phone lately — or on FaceTime, Zoom, Skype — than they have in years, and to people they rarely talk to.

“I have had more contact with old high school and college friends in the last two weeks than in the last decade,” says a friend. “Maybe it’s because we have more time, or maybe it’s because we’re all getting sentimental as we peer into the precipice. But it has been one of the very few things that I’ve been grateful for about the pandemic.”

Sometimes all this renewed or amplified connection can be overload. I empathize with the friend who recently grumbled that her fantasy of pleasant alone time during self-isolation has been burst by the incessant communication from other self-isolators.

But most of the time, these out-of-the-blue phone calls are a good thing. It’s as if disconnection — from workplaces, jobs, gyms, churches, routines, people we love — has reinforced our understanding of how much we need to connect, and not only by email and text. In a moment of limited touch and travel, we need to talk.

For many of us, all the pandemic has shifted our sense of time, too. Weekdays may blur into weekends. The past creeps into the present. The future is on hold. Suddenly we need to talk to a friend who’s fallen out of our orbit. We need the comfort of a voice.

Shortly before Mimi and I ended our call, she reported that someone was leading a cow down the street.

A cow? No.

“Yes,” she said. “A cow. You never know what you’ll see if you sit on your porch long enough.”

I’ve felt lighter since Mimi called. When I go out walking, I think of it as moseying. I look for stray cows. And I think about the power we hold in our voices to help each other believe that, eventually, we’ll be OK.


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