frighten me these days. The phone rang a few minutes ago, just on 7:30am, and I did not want to answer it. When I did it turned out to be a young man saying, "Oh, sorry - wrong number."
He would have no idea how much such a call could frighten me. Is it wrong to think that there must be something wrong? Is it wrong to think, "This has to be about the Senior Cat"? At that time in the morning it is all too likely now.
I put the phone down feeling slightly shaken. This was how we learned of my mother's death. The hospital had sent us home on a Saturday evening. The Senior Cat was exhausted. I doubt he had slept because he answered the phone extension by his bed before I could get to the other one. I don't know who gave him the message or how they put it but I knew before he said anything. That had to be it.
He went off to see Middle Cat and I was left to make some calls. It was about 7:40am by then. I knew I could catch Fr A... in his study before the 8:00am service. In his usual calm fashion all he said was, "Thank you Cat. I'll come round as soon as the service is over." I suppose people in his position have that sort of thing happen often enough. Do they get used to it? No, probably not - and not if they care. Fr A.... is still around. He's almost 90. We catch up occasionally in the shopping centre. He always asks after the Senior Cat.
Some time after my mother died I remember telling him about a phone call I took one day. We had just moved. The school the Senior Cat had been sent to was in the middle of a "soldier settlement". These were set up by the government post war. They idea was that men who had no other means of supporting themselves would be able to go farming. This particular location was a disaster. It was an island with no quick means of access to the mainland - and the mental health services needed. Most of the men had no knowledge of farming. They were given the wrong advice about what to plant and much more. There were also problems at the school. The Senior Cat was sent to sort that situation out.
We had been there only a few weeks when I answered the house extension one Saturday afternoon. Before I could actually say more than "School house" a terrified voice said, "Mr..... my father is trying to kill my mother..." One of the settlers was chasing his wife across a paddock (large field) with a red hot poker in his hand. He thought his wife was the enemy. Men had to go out, find him, subdue him and then he was flown off the island for help. It must have been a shattering experience for the child who phoned. He was only about ten or eleven.
There have been other distressing phone calls in our lives. Most people have experienced them. Is it easier to give bad news that way? I think it is. Speaking at a distance like that can be easier. We don't have to come face to face with the same reality.
But I could have done without that wrong number this morning. I still feel shaken. I hope that young man was not handing on bad news.