While I was in college one of my work-study jobs was to work at the phon-o-thon center where our job was to call alumni for donations. The result of every phone call was one of two reactions:
1) “OMG FORDHAM! I love Fordham! I remember hanging out until 4 AM on Edward’s Parade my senior year after hanging out at Clarke’s bar. Sure I can donate something.”
2) “I hate Fordham and the Jesuits and everything associated with them, you SOB and never EVER call me again, you bleep.”
The latter helped me develop a thick skin for those kinds of comments, realizing that the caller had experiences that had nothing to do with me. It was difficult to hear at times and my editor at Orbis, Mike Leach, reminded me of this experience in his recent column in the National Catholic Reporter.
Leach talks about trying to find the face of Christ in everyone he meets and that he often fails at it. But he cites several people who enter his life who he has to remind himself that they are Christ. Especially those who we find on the other end of the phone, invited or not.
This worked beautifully for most of my work life (one author said, “Every time Mike picks up the phone you feel like he’s been waiting his whole life just to talk to you” — that’s how you feel when you really know it’s the Christ on the line) until I semiretired and just about every time I picked up the phone it was a telemarketer who wouldn’t let go of my ear. That wore on my patience until a friend told me that my favorite spiritual teacher, Dr. Thomas Hora, had this telephone maxim: “Before you say hello, say I love you.” Now I don’t always say that to myself before I pick up the phone (or before someone I am calling picks up their phone) and I only sometimes remember that is the voice of Christ on the other end, but I am discovering that both of these practices are beneficial habits that put me in my proper place. Even with a telemarketer.
I hope I can be as gracious as Mike Leach is and has been to me.
Perhaps that’s not just a lesson for advent but for every day.