A man tells the story about a special friend he made while just a boy. When quite young, Paul’s father had one of the first telephones in their neighbourhood. Paul was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when his mother talked to it.
Then Paul discovered that somewhere inside the wonderful device lived an amazing person – her name was “Information, Please” and there was nothing she did not know.
“Information, Please” could supply anybody’s number and the correct time. Paul’s first personal experience with this genie-in the-bottle came one day while his mother was visiting a neighbour. Amusing himself at the tool bench in the basement, Paul hacked his finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible, but there didn’t seem to be any reason in crying because there was no one home to give sympathy. He walked around the house sucking his throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway.
Quickly, Paul ran for the foot stool in the parlour and dragged it to the landing. Climbing up, he unhooked the receiver in the parlour and held it to his ear. “Information, Please,” he said into the mouthpiece just above his head.
A click or two and a small clear voice spoke into Paul’s ear.
“I hurt my finger,” Paul wailed into the phone.
“Isn’t your mother home?” came the question.
“Nobody’s home but me” Paul blubbered.
“Are you bleeding?” the voice asked.
“No,” he replied. “I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts.”
“Can you open your icebox?” she asked. He said he could. “Then chip off a little piece of ice and hold it to your finger,” said the voice.
After that, Paul called “Information, Please” for everything. He asked her for help with his geography and she told me where Philadelphia was. She helped him with his maths. She told Paul that his pet chipmunk, which he had caught in the park just the day before, would eat fruit and nuts. Then, there was the time Petey, the pet canary died. Paul called and told her the sad story.
She listened, then said the usual things grown-ups say to soothe a child, but Paul was inconsolable. He asked her, “Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers on the bottom of a cage?”
She must have sensed his deep concern, for she said quietly, “Paul, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in.” Somehow he felt better. .
When Paul was nine years old, his family moved across the country to Boston. Paul missed his friend very much. “Information, Please” belonged in that old wooden box back home, and he somehow never thought of trying the tall, shiny new phone that sat on the table in the hall.
As he grew into my teens, the memories of those childhood conversations never really left him. Often, in moments of doubt and perplexity Paul would recall the serene sense of security he had then. He appreciated now how patient, understanding, and kind she was to have spent her time on a little boy.
A few years later, on his way west to college, Paul’s plane put down in Seattle. He had about half an hour or so between planes. He spent 15 minutes on the phone with my sister, who lived there now. Then without thinking what he was doing, Paul dialled his hometown operator and said, “Information, Please.”
Miraculously, he heard the small, clear voice he knew so well, “Information.”
He hadn’t planned this but he heard myself saying, “Could you please tell me how to spell fix?”
There was a long pause. Then came the soft spoken answer, “I guess your finger must have healed by now.” Paul laughed. “So it’s really still you,” he said. “I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time.”
“I wonder,” she said, “if you know how much your calls meant to me. I never had any children, and I used to look forward to your calls.” Paul told her how often he had thought of her over the years and asked if he could call her again when he came back to visit his sister.
“Please do,” she said. “Just ask for Sally.”
Three months later Paul was back in Seattle. A different voice answered, “Information.” He asked for Sally. “Are you a friend?” She asked.
“Yes, a very old friend,” Paul answered.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” she said. “Sally has been working part-time the last few years because she was sick. She died five weeks ago.”
Before he could hang up she said, “Wait a minute. Is this Paul?”
“Yes,” Paul replied.
“Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down in case you called. Let me read it to you.” The note said, “Tell him I still say there are other worlds to sing in. He’ll know what I mean.”
Application: Listening – Information Please gave Paul one of the most precious yet simple gifts a person can give, the gift of listening.
Application: Hope, Death, Heaven. “There are other world’s to sing in”. Beyond death lies the hope of a new life.
Application: Community, Friendship. This story reminds us that we need each other. Information Please and Paul both had their lives enriched in powerful yet simple ways by the gift of their friendship with one another.
Application: Children. We adults often make the mistake of dismissing the concerns of small children. Yet coping with the death of a budgie or telling someone that you’ve hurt your finger are the things that are important to a small child. Sally reminds us of the importance of being attentive to the needs of children, not expecting them to function as mini adults but nurturing their journey as children.
“You have no idea what this has meant to me. All these years I never thought you were even interested in what I had to say,” the old man told them.
It’s my get away. You heard me mention it before. My favorite restaurant for a good old clog your heart breakfast of eggs, home fries, and bacon. Oh yes. Whole wheat toast to make it healthy.
I find the most incredible people and stories in restaurants. Think about it. It’s your family dinner table removed from your kitchen and placed in a public area. Like home, but better. Somebody else is cooking and doing the dishes.
So scattered all around me are families having dinner, friends catching up with the latest news, business meetings and people like me just there to relax. Oh, of course. Great conversation.
Except in the booth across from me. Silence.
When I first sat down there two men sitting together quietly. One man appeared to be in his thirties. He was dressed in some old work clothes and still wearing his baseball cap. The other man I would guess was about 80. He had the most incredible face. The lines and creases gave him character. His white hair was messy from wearing a stocking cap he held on top of the table. He wore one of those red plaid shirt jackets that you might see on a construction worker. Heavy enough to keep you warm while you’re moving about, but not too bulky to limit your movement.
But he didn’t look like he was going any where. Neither was this conversation.
“Boy, I really worked up a hunger today, Pop. All that shoveling and sweeping the snow will do that,” the younger man said.
“Yeah, this is somethin’,” replied the old man.
Silence followed for the longest time.
Suddenly I heard the young man say, “Here they come,” as he pointed toward the doorway.
He almost looked relieved. Somebody who would join in and help get this conversation going.
It appeared to me that the two people who joined them were a mother and teenage grandchild. The woman sat next to the younger man and Pop stood up to let the grandchild slide in place.
“Hello, Dad. Good to see you!” she said as she sat down.
“Yep!” the old man replied.
Silence. Even longer gaps than before.
“I feel real good,” the old man said proudly.
“Oh, you look good Dad,” the younger man said. Then one by one the others agreed.
The waitress approached and took their breakfast orders.
Grandpa excused himself. “Gotta go to the bathroom. It happens a lot when you’re old,” he said.
As soon as he was out of sight, the younger man said, “God, I don’t know what to say to him. We just sit here looking around. He never talks.”
“I know what you mean. God what do you say?” the woman added.
“He’s old. What do you talk about with an old man?” the kid joined in.
Oh, no. Here I go. I can’t just sit here and listen to this. I’m going to say something, swallow hard and wait to see if they tell me it’s none of my business.
“Ask him about his childhood,” I said as I continued eating.
“What? Pardon me? Were you talking to us, sir?” the woman asked.
“Yes. It’s really not my business, I know. But do you realize what he has to offer you? Can you even begin to understand what this man has seen in his lifetime? He most likely has answers to problems you haven’t even discovered as problems in your life. He’s a gold mine!” I said.
“Look, talk to him about his childhood. Ask him what the snows were like back then. He’ll have a million stories to share. He’s not talking because no one is asking,” I told them.
Just then he came walking around the corner.
“Oh, boy. I feel much better now. You know I haven’t been goin’ good in a while,” the old man told them.
They all turned and looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders. Okay. So old people also talk about the facts of life. And going or not going is a major thing when you’re old. You take the good with the bad.
After a long silence the young girl said, “Paw Paw. When you were a kid were the snows this bad?”
“Gees, honey. This is nothing like the snows I had when I was a kid. Did I ever tell you about the snow storm that covered my house?” he asked.
“No, Pop. I don’t think I ever heard that one myself,” said the younger man.
Now for the next twenty minutes the old man was in his glory. At one point he even stood up to show them how high the one snow drift was. Throughout the entire meal everyone chimed in with more questions. They laughed and he lit up like he was on stage and the play he was acting in was his life story.
Just as I was about to leave I heard the old man say, “You have no idea what this has meant to me. All these years I never thought you were even interested in what I had to say.”
“Oh….. well, I guess we just didn’t think you wanted to talk,” the woman said.
“Well nobody bothered to ask me anything. I just figured I was boring or somethin. It’s been a tough life you know. Ever since Ma Ma died I really had nothing to say.” He paused for a moment. I could see him nervously wringing his rough life worn hands together.
“You see, her and I were like a song. I made the music and she…she was the words,” he said.
Like tough guys of his time are supposed to do, he held back any visible emotion, sniffled and wiping his eye he said, “No sense talkin’ if you ain’t got the words.”
As I turned to walk away I looked across the table. I saw the young girl wave and smile at me as she put her arm around Paw Paw’s shoulders.
She didn’t have to say a word.
Source: Bob Perks © 2001. Used with permission
Famous feminist Gloria Steinem was invited to give a speech at Smith College. She related an important life lesson she learned during her time as a student. Steinem was studying geology and on a field trip saw a large turtle that had hauled itself out of the Connecticut river, up a couple of embankments and was now on a trajectory towards the road. Fearful for the turtle she turned it around and pushed, shoved and hauled a now very angry amphibian back to the river.
It was at this point her geology professor came by and informed Steinem that the turtle had probably spent weeks of exhausting effort getting up those embankments and now, just as it was near its nesting spot Steinem had turned it around.
The life lesson?
“I realized that this was the most important political lesson I learned, one that cautioned me about the authoritarian impulse of both left and right. Always ask the turtle.”
Source: reported in Gloria Steinem, Bits and Pieces magazine.