Is it possible to miss someone whom you have never met? Well, I miss Virginia. Virginia was the kindly lady who used to call our house once or twice a month for the last five years so as to inquire whether or not we required our regular water delivery. Her calls were like clockwork. Every second Monday of the month the call display would light up revealing Virginia's company name and phone number. Her's was a call I would always take if at home. No ducking Virginia. She had a voice built for telephone conversation; smooth, calm, and without even a tiny hint of the sarcasm and cynicism she surely must have felt given that she spent most of her day making customer service calls. She was kind without any pushiness, probing without being nosy. She would wish me safe travels when informed of our absences, and more than once begged me to take her with us-in total jest, of course.
I had concocted an entire back story for Virginia. She must have been about 55 and was probably carrying around a few more pounds than she would like. She was divorced-still on good terms with her ex-but the split had forced her to take the part-time work in the family water business to make ends meet. She dreamed of travel and hoped that she could take that long-awaited trip to Hawaii at Christmas break. Yes, I liked Virginia very much and I looked forward to her calls. And then one day, she was gone. One day the phone rang with that all too familiar number and instead of Virginia's soothing voice greeting me, on the other end of the line was Kelly. Kelly is perky and young. She is sweet and efficient and probably very good at her job, but I miss Virginia. I feel like a friend has quit me with no notice and I cannot for the life of me figure out what I did wrong. I hardly had any interaction with Virginia, but something in her manner and tone had me convinced that I liked her. She was just a voice, but I had an entire picture of her in my mind. Obviously I had created a fictitious character, but it was fun while it lasted.
Years ago I used to do Bar Mitzvah recordings for a rabbi from a small community about two hours west of Toronto. Rabbi W would call the house to give me the chapters and verses he required, and I would send tapes in return. We never met. Our whole relationship was conducted first on the telephone and later via email. He was a lovely man with a baritone that would make James Earl Jones jealous. I had a picture of him in my mind as to his looks and his life. Total fabrications, of course. As our conversations became more involved and more frequent, I soon discovered many details about Rabbi W's life that didn't fit with my mental picture of the man. He was older than I had originally thought, with grown children. He loved farming and outdoor life-a far cry from the suave debonair image I had falsely formed. One day, Rabbi W informed me that he would be in my neighbourhood and would like to stop by to pick up the latest recording. When I opened the door to greet him I was totally stunned by the man who stood on my stoop. He looked nothing like my false representations, but as we spoke that day I became acquainted with the whole man and not just his voice. When he died two years ago, I mourned along with countless others. He had become a teacher, a mentor, and a friend.
We are constantly affected by the glimpses or sounds of the people in our lives. I didn't know Virginia at all and yet I am saddened by her absence. I had a cursory relationship with Rabbi W and yet his impact on me was profound. Those disembodied voices we hear every day are really quite connected to us after all.