If Death participated in social media (and who doesn’t these days?), this week he would be that guy the Facebook algorithm suddenly decides should be every other item in my news feed. I haven’t been able to look anywhere without being made aware of his business.
His larger status updates have been national news, not just my own. America’s most recent shooting spree hit both physically and emotionally close to home for several of my friends here in California. Then there was our annual observance of Memorial Day, during which my family takes an extra pause to thank and remember our own veterans – my grandfather, great uncle, and cousin (only one of whom is still with us).
Death’s more direct involvement in my timeline was to cast me repeatedly in the role of “consoler”. Two different good friends had to put a bittersweet end to their beloved pet’s battle with cancer, and in both cases I was in a position to help out within the next twenty-four hours. It was nice to be able to be there for them – and very nice to come home and find my own two cats as healthy and obnoxious as ever.
But Death’s most personal interaction came at the beginning of the week, in a sneak attack akin to that random mention of a name you thought you’d put behind you. Quite fittingly, he came at me through my very first smart phone. (Yes, I said my first.)
I am what is affectionately known as a “pack rat” and probably more accurately described as a “hoarder in training.” Add my healthy dose of frugality and the result is a person who never stops using something until it has stopped working entirely. No kidding – I still drive the car I bought used fifteen years ago. The point being, I don’t get a new phone very often.
For those of us still stuck in the last technological century, a new phone brings with it the ritual of transferring contacts over from the old one. I have been told that in this age of Androids and Apples, this can happen automatically, but I like the act of doing it manually. Much like the updating of a Christmas card list or the fresh start of a new address book (in the days before cell phones), the task of transferring phone numbers is a great opportunity to reflect and evolve.
Inevitably, there are those number that do not need to be entered into the new phone. Deleting a contact can be a really satisfying act, a kind of spring cleaning for the soul. There are the “Hey, I don’t work for this person anymore” deletions, the “Wow, I haven’t spoken to or seen this person for ages” deletions, the “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on” deletions, and of course – there is always at least one – the “I have absolutely no idea who this person is” deletion. With each click of the down arrow as I skip on to the next contact, I can feel myself getting lighter.
And then, suddenly, there is that number I no longer need but wish I did.
On average, I get a new phone every four or five years, so there is always at least one number that has become obsolete. When they sneak up, it is a little punch in the gut, a reminder of grief suffered and survived. With my last phone, it was my grandmother’s number (226-1875), the first time I ever deleted a family member (the other grandparents having been lost before cell phones).
This time, there were three: my childhood home (224-8049), which since my parents’ retirement and relocation is no longer ours, my best friend’s childhood home (420-5286) for the same reason, and my dear friend Jay Leggett. He was my director at the Second City and beyond, my inspiration as a writer, and most importantly a beloved human being. We lost him just six months ago, almost to the day of my contacts transfer.
Staring at that number, knowing I had to let it pass uncopied, was like letting the last physical piece of him go, finally. It hurt – especially because, as technology diminishes our brain power, I know that I do not have that one forever burned in my mind. But I also know that it is important to move forward, to let grief pass; I didn’t copy the number.
Life is for the living, and smart phones are for those who can let go of their Luddite fear of advancement. Since I plan to be a member of the former group for some time, it is about time I became one of the latter as well. Even if it hurts a little. (Now excuse me while I go check Facebook on my phone.)