Monday, February 9, 2015

Saving you

Seven years ago, I got a phone call from my mom. I missed it. It went to voicemail.

When I listened to it, she was asking to see me. There was sadness in her voice. She was lonely. We'd been apart for a long time. She had a stroke a few years earlier and could no longer take care of me. Our time together went from daily to weekly at most. 

She left me that voicemail, and the next day she died.

It stayed in my phone for a long time. I never deleted it. Eventually the phone stopped working and all of its content, including the message, was lost. The last time I'd ever hear the voice of my mother during her lifetime, disappeared into the void of a dead Sidekick.

Recently, I was listening to the NPR TED Radio Hour podcast, an episode called Keeping Secrets. In the first segment of the episode, Frank Warren spoke about his project PostSecret, an online community where people send their secrets written on artful postcards to Warren who then curates and publishes contributions to the website. During his TED Talks, Warren read the following secret:

"When people I love leave voicemails on my phone, I always save them in case they die tomorrow and I have no other way of hearing their voice ever again." (Frank Warren / PostSecret)

As I listened to this secret read aloud, I discovered something about myself. I then began to melt into a pool of my own tears.

My mom's passing came so suddenly that her voicemail felt like a mummified version of her final moments. I kept it like a warm blanket on a cold day - a protectant from the terrible road ahead. If it stayed on the phone, it was like nothing had happened.

But as we all must do with most things, I had to let go of the message.

Then today, the thought of that voicemail hit me like a ton of bricks. Not just because I'd lost it, but because I realized that like the person who wrote the secret, and like many others, I never delete my voicemails.

And it's not because I'm lazy, or because there are important notices held within.

A few months ago I noticed my phone's voicemail was about to reach capacity. As I looked at the list of saved messages, I first deleted the ones that were from businesses. Then I removed the ones from distant acquaintances. But I couldn't convince myself to dispose of some and it occurred to me today just why that is.

Because I don't want to lose the voicemail sarcophagi of the people I love.

But by doing this, I have rendered myself unable to properly live in the present.

My present is like a ticking clock, swallowed up by the past and future. Each tick is a reminder that another second has passed and that less time remains.

I don't want to live this way, to base my happiness on the things I cannot change. But the fear of loss is so all-consuming, that saving everything is like a child's pacifier, a temporary fix.

In the years since my mom passed, I've been able to let go of the lost voicemail. I've found her in other places - home movies, old greeting cards, little trinkets she gave me. And rather than remind me of my loss, they remind me of her life.

So maybe these final voicemails aren't the right way to go about things. Though we may find solace in their keeping, the important memories are held in the moments we lived with our loved ones, not the moments we spent worrying about them and trying desperately to save them.

These days, I take a lot of videos and photos of my family. I look back regularly through my iPhone camera roll and enjoy the memories, even if they happened just days before.

There really is no time like the present to appreciate the people you have around you. And that method of saving is, in my opinion, very worth doing.

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