One of the blessings of reaching a certain age is the perspective one gains on elements of modernity. There are things that change for the better, and things we mourn like the death of a civilized world.
When I was a child we had one home phone plugged into the wall; you were not allowed to answer it at dinnertime and no one would ever have called after 9 at night. If the phone did ring late, it was not good news.
We were taught to ask, “whom may I ask is speaking” when taking a message for someone, as the whole family used the same phone and it was more polite than saying “who is this? when the call was for someone else.” We were taught to always inquire about the caller first before launching into a request or story of our own, and not to talk too long out of consideration for other people’s time.
Important things happened on house phones, in the days before cell phones and the internet. Gossip was shared, first dates were set, love was confessed or denied, news of illness and death arrived while others stood waiting a few feet away, watching the face of the listener for clues. We called our family doctor who lived on the other side of the back fence on that phone, and he came to our bedside with his black bag. We ordered things from Eaton’s catalogue, and talked to my father when he was traveling with his work. We often dialed it with a pencil end, and it had a dial tone when you listened. The sound of its ringing, loud and clear throughout the house, felt as exciting as a visitor at the front door.
So today, when phones might as well be implanted into our bodies, engaging and controlling every aspect of our lives, much of the mystery has been lost, along with courtesy and grace. When I call a friend (or ore likely one of my kids) and they pick up with a curt “what’s up”, it sounds as if they are already irritated, as if they are too sexy for their shirt, too sexy for their car, definitely too sexy for my party, and have much more important things to do than answer a phone. I miss those days of “whom may I ask is speaking?” and “one moment please..” Just sayin’.
Then there is the ubiquitous “duck face”; that strange expression so many young women like to make when they take Selfies for Facebook. (Yes Selfie is now officially a word. You can look it up in Websters.) Making a kissy face for the camera is not a new thing – as a child I watched fascinated as my mother puffed out her lips in front of the mirror, just before, during and for a few minutes after the application of lipstick. I was fascinated and unsettled by this habit as she seemed to not notice how bizarrely different she looked from her natural expression, the one that most of us saw, most of the day. But at least in the forties and fifties it could be a genuinely cute act, as innocent as pin ups in high-waisted two piece bathing suits. Now this facial expression has become almost a sneer, one that makes the wearer look somehow intentionally unintelligent and yet above it all at the same time. This is not the face of a human rights activist, a literary author, or an indigenous wise woman. Who is it who makes this face? Do we really want to know?
My request would be, please, now that most young men are no longer wearing their pants dangerously below their underwear, can we end this equally unattractive trend? If I look at a photo I don’t want to be distracted by inflated lips, I want to witness the whole of you, in a natural joy. I want to see what’s behind those eyes, in that heart and where you are headed in the world. I want to see human lips, and imagine what they have to say.
To conclude my grumbling on an uplifting note, we must take heart in the babies, the ones who seem to be arriving in greater and greater numbers with extraordinary sensitivities, incredible talents and skills, and sometimes built in memories of past lives. Here’s a beautiful video of one such babe, though my sense is she is tuning in to the “heartbreak” vibe of the song with her deep sensitivity to her mom. No duck face. No sounding cool. Just telling the emotional truth, the way only babies can.