This is a beautiful story I discovered in one of the many inspiring and eloquent Tara Brach’s talk. It goes like this:
There was a little boy named Paul who lived in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. His family became the proud owners of one of the first telephones in the neighbourhood. Young Paul listened with fascination as his mom and dad used the phone. And he discovered that somewhere inside this wonderful device called a telephone lived an amazing person.
Her name was “Information Please” – and there was nothing she did not know. Information Please could supply anybody’s number – and the correct time of day! Paul’s first personal experience with “Information Please” came one day when he was home alone and he whacked his finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible and he didn’t know what to do.
And then he thought of the telephone. Quickly, he pulled a footstool up to the phone, climbed up, unhooked the receiver, held it to his ear and said “Information Please” into the mouthpiece. There was a click or two and then a small, clear voice spoke: “Information.” “I hurt my finger,” Paul wailed into the phone. “Isn’t your mother home?” “Nobody’s home but me,” Paul cried. “Are you bleeding?” “No,” Paul said. “I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts.” “Can you open your ice-box?” “Yes.” “Then go get some ice and hold it to your finger.” Paul did and it helped a lot.
After that Paul called “Information Please” for everything. She helped him with his geography and his math. She taught him how to spell the word “fix.” She told him what to feed his pet chipmunk. And then, when Paul’s cat died, she listened to his grief tenderly and then said: “Paul, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in.” Somehow that helped and Paul felt better.
When Paul was nine years old, his family moved back east. And as the years passed he missed “Information Please” very much. Some years later as Paul was on his way out west to go to college, his train arrived in Seattle. He dialed his hometown operator and said, “Information Please.” Miraculously, he heard that same small, clear, voice that he knew so well. “Information.”
Paul hadn’t planned this, but suddenly he blurted out: “Could you please tell me how to spell the word ‘fix’?” There was a long pause. Then came the soft answer: “I guess your finger must be all healed by now.” Paul laughed. “So it’s really still you. Do you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time when I was a little boy?” “I wonder,” she said, “If you know how much your calls meant to me! I never had any children and I used to look forward to your calls so much.”
Paul told her how much he had missed her over the years and asked her if he could call her again when he was back in the area. “Please do,” she said, “just ask for Sally.” Three months later, Paul was back in Seattle. This time a different voice answered. He asked for Sally. “Are you a friend?” the operator asked. “Yes, a very old friend,” Paul answered. “Well, I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” she said. “Sally had been working part time the last few years because she was sick. She died a few weeks ago.”
Before he could hang up, the operator said: “Wait a minute. Did you say your name was Paul?” “Yes.” “Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down in case you called. Let me read it to you. It says: ‘When Paul calls, tell him that I still say: There are other worlds to sing in.’ He will know what I mean.”
Paul thanked her and hung up, he knew exactly what Sally meant.