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JAMES BEHRENS: Express love for others with a phone call, not a post

Brian was the first of my nieces and nephews to be born. His mom and dad -- my sister Mary and brother-in-law Brian -- lived up in Syracuse in those days. Brian was in medical school at Upstate Medical Center. We then lived in Montclair, N.J.

We awaited with great joy for Brian's birth. We did not know if the baby on the way was to be a boy or girl. I do not know if sonograms had made the scene back then. Medical technology has made great advances since then. But with all change, there is loss, and sometimes the loss is of something good.

We awaited the arrival call with near bursting anxiety. The phone rang, Mom picked it up, and an operator was on the line. Mary made a person-to-person call and must have told the operator that Brian had made it into the world.

The operator was as happy with the news as we were. She congratulated us, said she would say a special prayer for little Brian and all of us, and I had the feeling that we made her day.

Little Brian is now not so little. He is a lawyer, lives here in Atlanta and is now happily married to Amy with four children of their own.

I do not know if there are still person-to-person calls. If there are operators, I have not spoken to one in years. A lot of communication needs are today accomplished with pressing the right buttons according to the directions given by automated messages.

"Communication" is a generous word, I suppose. There really is no communication, just the pressing of buttons. There is very little in terms of real interpersonal contact. Just a bunch of beeps and then, maybe, an automated "thank you."

I am not complaining. I realize that people can communicate in this day and age as never before. Getting in touch is immediate, near flawless, and global. There are very few glitches and the ones that do glitch are fixed very fast.

But I miss that operator and something about the times as they were back then. As the years passed, communication became more rapid and hassle-free. It became increasingly more predictable, user-friendly, free of intermediaries like the overjoyed operator. Maybe we gained a lot, but we lost the pleasure and surprise of people like her.

Yesterday I found out via a social networking site that a friend of mine died. His son posted a notice of death. There soon followed a string of responses, which were all nicely worded and surely heartfelt, but I missed the sound of a voice. The notice was squeezed between all kinds of other posts, posts which offered a dizzying array of cartoons, video clips, news about Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber. The sad news about my friend soon vanished as the page scrolled.

I think that there is something of that real nice telephone operator in each of us. We want to be personal. We want to share -- really share -- the joys and sorrows of those we love. And we, as well, want to befriend that stranger whose lifelines may cross ours.

But these days, maybe that is only possible by recovering our humanness as best we can. We need each other. We like each other. We want the best for each other. So take a risk every now and then and do something lovingly personal. Something that won't roll off the screen of life, something that will be remembered as I remember that long ago operator.

Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is james@trappist.net.