Unknown August 29, 2011

It was a rare (RARE) Saturday afternoon moment. Both kids were asleep at the same time, and my spouse was out of the house. I had just settled into the good chair with a library book, and the phone rang. I glanced over and there it was…the “unknown caller.”

What do you do? I almost never answer. Especially not on a Saturday, when there are sleeping babies and good books to be read.  It was almost a no-brainer.

And yet, this time, I answered. For whatever reason. And it was my brother, calling from his tour in South Africa! What a nice surprise for a lazy Saturday. I had just sort of figured i wouldn’t get to talk to him for the next month or so.

Had i not pushed the “accept” button on the unknown, I would have missed him.

What is it about our hyper-programmed and connected lives that feeds and aversion to the unknown? Maybe it’s a mistrust of the hierarchy and organization of the civilized world. After all, how often is an “unknown call” something to do with debt, sales, or politics? I think, pretty much always. We don’t want The Man phoning in on our Saturday down time, so we ignore the call.

Maybe it’s because we’ve watched too many scary movies where the unknown caller is Calling From Inside the HOUSE!!! (Get out of my head, dead Drew Barrymore.) Or maybe it’s because, on most of our phones these days, the regular caller is not just identified by name, but also by picture, status update, and most recent location. This feature has creeped me out for awhile, for many reasons, the loss of privacy being just the beginning. But maybe, beyond being a stalker’s dream (again, too many scary movies!) the smart-phone- iPhone- droid mode of communicating has done something more deeply harmful to us. It has killed not only the mystery of the world, but our ability to respond to it. If there’s not an app for that…well, we’d just rather not.

We don’t answer the door to strangers (scary movies), we’ve no time to explore a trail or stumble upon a cave, we’ve no patience to engage a stranger in conversation, and we’ve lost the energy required to answer the phone unless every detail of the caller’s life is outlined for us on the tiny screen.  How much do we miss?

Mystery knocks every day. We rarely answer. An unknown caller seeks a path into our Saturday, and we usually shut it down. How much fuller and more exciting might our lives be if, every now and and then, we opened the door, or answered with expectation, or wandered down the beckoning wilderness path? Someone we love is always half a world away, trying to reach us…even if we don’t know them yet.

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