Sari Botton | Longreads | April 2020 | 6 minutes (1,521 words)
To appreciate the significance of the shift I’m about to share with you, it helps to know a couple of things about me.
The first is that I’ve harbored a lifelong aversion to the telephone, which stands in stark contrast to my family’s enthusiasm for it. For the entirety of my adult life, my mother and sister have spoken to each other five or more times daily, and in between chatted with countless friends and other family members. They roll seamlessly from one conversation to the next while I cower the second my muted iPhone starts vibrating, and have worked hard at Ferberizing my mom so she expects only a couple of calls from me per week.
If I were to self-diagnose I’d say my problem is rooted in lonerish introversion (a condition I’ve learned to over-compensate for; I now pass as a full-fledged extrovert), and a social anxiety that stems from my teen years when, even though I begged to have a pale yellow princess phone installed in my bedroom so I could make myself available to my friends and crushes, I dreaded actually talking to them. What if there were awkward silences I didn’t know how to fill? What if I said the wrong thing? What if, without visual cues, I spoke at the wrong time, stepping on a cute boy’s lines?
The second is my long-standing antipathy toward a group I’ve dubbed The Forgiveness Lobby — that well-meaning but preachy band of folks who, to my mind, short-circuit a multi-step process best given ample time. You know the ones — always posting platitudes such as “Holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” They pressure the aggrieved into relinquishing appropriate anger well before they’re ready — and before those who’ve aggrieved them have had sufficient opportunity to suffer the consequences of their actions, and come around to making amends. I’m all for genuine forgiveness, but that is something which must unfold at its own pace.
So imagine my surprise when, a week into social distancing thanks to Coronavirus, I suddenly wanted to call or Facetime with absolutely everyone, especially a handful of people I’d previously fallen out with, so we could bury our hatchets, large and small.
Maybe it was the void created by the sudden absence of friends I’m used to spending time with IRL — and the colleagues I used to work with side-by-side in the small co-working space I operated, which Coronavirus has forced me to shutter. Maybe it was the death toll, mounting daily, reminding me of my mortality and everyone else’s. Maybe it was the arrival of a mutual enemy, which has made it easier to bond with those I’ve been at odds with. Whatever the cause, I quickly found myself emailing people, asking for appointments to talk on the phone so we could start over. (What kind of monster just calls people out of the blue without any warning? Okay, okay — some friends have recently done this and I kind of…loved it…? Who even is Pandemic Sari?)
Of course, there have been exceptions, people toward whom I am not feeling terribly generous, even in my newfound state of grace. There’s the underminer/boundary-pusher I’ve been trying to shake for going on 40 years, who keeps resurfacing no matter how fervently I try to avoid her. There are exes I am resigned never to speak to again — unless, of course, they come forth with long overdue apologies. Until such time, I am standing on ceremony, deadly plague be damned.
But for a few notable others, I am all about rapprochement right now.