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Listening In

When is a wrong number right?

At 7:20 on a weekday morning in my house, Twelve is more than half-an-hour gone to the pre-dawn school bus. His sister, Nine, might still be in her jammies, in spite of the fact that her bus will be along in just about twenty minutes. I am usually locked in the dance of encouraging her to eat, trying not to insist that she wolf her food, and telling her it’s time to go upstairs and get dressed. If my own act is together, I’m gathering my papers and laptop for the day and preparing to take Nine to the bus, after which I’m off to the studio.

It’s just such a morning when my phone rings. The number is unfamiliar and the caller ID reads Ohio. I answer, as often work calls come to my cell phone, “Hello, this is Robin.”

The male voice on the other end of the phone sounds confused. I can’t quite understand who he’s asking for—maybe a first and last name of someone he hasn’t spoken with for a long time, he’s so hesitant—and finally he settles for asking if the number he thought he was dialing, a number that shares an area code but not another single digit with mine, is the one he has reached.

“I’m sorry, Sir, you have the wrong number.” I’m ready to hang up, ready to hustle that daughter along, ready to leave for my day when his next words, clear and distinct, stop me.

“I was trying to phone my cousin. My sister is dead. She shot herself. She found out her husband was cheating on her and shot herself.”

About a thousand thoughts swirl around my head—I feel terrible for this stranger, I want desperately to get off the phone. I know I don’t want to hurt this man in any way, nor do I want to be drawn into his story.

“Sir, I’m so sorry … “ I manage before he begins talking again.

“I didn’t want to see her, but I figured I had to. I went, just now, I saw the body.” And he tells me the details of lingering by the door and then seeing her and what she looked like and how he held her and kissed her and said goodbye. “I’ll never forget how awful it was.”

“Sir, you’ve had a terrible shock,” I try. “I am so very sorry.”

He pauses then, finally, and maybe it registers that he’s just told his story to someone he’s never met. “You’re kind.”

“I wish you peace today—please take care.”

“Thank you.” He says. “Thank you.” And he hangs up.

It’s later that day when I have a chance to reflect on the phone call. My cell phone reveals the call lasted two minutes. I am relieved I did not hustle him off the phone. Briefly I consider searching Ohio papers for a story about the man’s sister. I check my impulse—this one, as my mother would say, is not mine. Instead, I think about what would have happened if I had hung up as quickly as I had wanted to or perhaps, an understandable position, let the early-in-the-day phone call go to voice mail. But I didn’t select either of these options—I picked up the phone, I spoke a little, I listened, I extricated myself from the call when I was able to. And, I was kind.

Kindnesses are, perhaps, one of the most essential gifts I can give and, too, receive; it is not easy to do either. Kindness requires stopping to listen when the clock is pushing me to go. Kindness requires living at center; a kind act comes from stillness, reflection, ease. I am astonished that I was able to pause and to be kind in the swirl of a Tuesday morning. I consider how much harder it is to accept kindness. If to give kindness I need to be centered, still, and reflective, to accept kindness I need to add open and humble.

It’s a few days later, Saturday morning at the studio. I think of my livelihood as an opportunity to practice kindness, compassion, giving. But this day the kindnesses come from each of the wonderful yoginis who walk in. They enter, maybe not even knowing they are bearing wisdom I need, but they are. One offers me a simple gardening solution, another a drum circle for mid-summer, another the unraveling of a knot I had been worrying. Regulars remind me where other regulars are; several come back after being away. Each one in her presence brings an infusion of energy, peace, joy, delight.

Listening under the new moon

It had been only the day before when two students had surprised me: you don’t talk about yourself. I don’t? I thought that was all I did—on the mat, in my blog, on email, in Facebook status updates, in line at the grocery store handing my studio business card to a stranger who wants to try yoga. I feel like I talk about myself all the time. I concede that it’s a polished presentation of self more often than a raw version, and maybe that’s what my students are responding to. I don’t shout, I guess, and maybe I don’t lay out every last piece for airing. But when I look at the words I write and the words I say, it’s all there, albeit some between the lines. I write words for the page, speak words in the air. And I am honored because what resonates back to me is that people are listening: Listening—bearing witness for one another—that act is the kindest kindness of all.

Thank you, Kind Reader, for sharing another new moon with me. Wishing you much love wherever your travels take you on this early spring day, Rxo


About Robin Bourjaily

I currently perform my own stunts as a mother, writer, editor, yoga instructor, and certified Yoga As Muse facilitator. Overneath It All is a medium for sharing my stories--my commitment is to post on the full and new moons, plus or minus a day or two, and the occasional personal holiday. My novel, Throwing Like a Girl, is now available in e-formats on Smashwords. Please visit to download. Thanks for checking in. xoR

10 responses »

  1. Beautiful reflection… may this new moon and transition to spring bring you a new awareness of the love that surrounds you.

  2. Boy, did I need this reminder. Thanks, Rob.

  3. lovely and as usual, spot kind of you to share!!!

  4. thank you for writing about stuff that matters!!!!!! xxoo Cat

  5. Really thoughtful post. Kindness, it seems to me, is a habit. It’s a lot easier to do if you do it a lot. I think you helped your caller at a key moment in his life. He may or may not remember it amid the emotional trauma. (I can see him hitting the phone keyboard in a foggy way and ending up with you on the other end.) But his psyche and his spirit were comforted by your response.

    • Thanks, Patrick. It’s nice to think that at the very least I didn’t add anything to that man’s trauma. Wherever he is tonight, I hope he is resting and finding some peace. Lovely to hear from you & thanks for reading!


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