The three digits, “768,” showing up on the caller i.d. give me pause. They are vaguely familiar, like I should know who that is; and then I realize that it’s the same prefix of my old dorm room. It’s a call from my alma mater.
I know that it will be a student, and sure enough: “Hello, this is Rachel and I’m a freshman at …” and then they ask to talk to “Dr. Johnston,” and I pause again, and then realize that I’m now the alum of some years past. Decades, actually, come to think of it.
On my end of the phone — something I associate with a “line,” and “dialing,” and a real “ring,” all of which must distinguish me from a generation on the other end — I’m waxing nostalgic. I can picture the room and building from where this current student is calling, locked there in order to work off some scholarship requirement or some work-study obligation. If they catch me at the right time and mood, I’ll ask about their classes, the dorms, an excursion, even the weather. It’s a pipeline back into my past. They are more than happy to tell me their stories, and we share a moment, I think.
Only this time, for whatever reason, it just struck me: When this poor undergrad is calling they aren’t just accommodating my own flashback into my own youthful days. They are having to endure looking into their own possible future, and I’m one of many possibilities that they call in a given evening. I’d like to think that I’m offering them hope through an example of a successful graduate of their school. Yet, maybe the consideration of advance to the age of 45, being tied down to a mortgage, preparing to send your own kids off to college, and wondering if you’ll ever write that book and what’s that pain in my left arm and I should get a new prescription for these glasses and so much more — maybe this is more burden than we should weigh these students down with. This could be a painful glimpse into a possible future, facing this call after call after call until they finish a shift and return to the dorm. They break from this long night of dialing possible futures, maybe to do something less daunting, like finishing that 2500 word essay on Dickens’ Bleak House.