It’s four o’clock on a Friday afternoon. All the clients have gone home. I am sitting at my desk, sorting papers, mulling over next week’s case list, daring to relax. Suddenly the phone blares, like an alarm mis-set for 2:00 a.m. My startled brain jumps and considers, “Who wants me now?” Here’s what crosses my mind, in no particular order of mounting anxiety.
The boss. My boss is male, and like every stunningly self-absorbed male boss I have ever had, he honestly believes that I sit next to the phone, filing my nails and humming “Waiting for You.” If I pick up the phone now, he’s likely to say, “I have an emergency. I want you to work on a brief that’s due Monday morning at 9:00 a.m.” Why don’t his emergencies ever arise during the hours of an actual workday? Neither management, nor his wife, nor Father Time himself can do a thing about him. Besides, he’ll sound pathetic, and I know I will feel sorry for him.
My daughter. I made the mistake of teaching my daughter to speed dial my work number when she was 18 months old. Immediately, she took to calling at any hour to say, “I wuv you Mommy. Pease come home.” Now a teenager, she still speed dials, but she says different, developmentally appropriate things, like, “I am totally humiliated by these split ends. Can’t you take me to get a trim tomorrow, Mom?” Then she sighs, with pain, and falls silent. I now have the opportunity to show her hair, and her, my great love and support, or to reject her plan, her split ends, her misery, and her as a person. She may spend years in therapy because of me.
My husband. Bill can call at any hour, or not at all. I can go days without hearing from him, almost forgetting that I am married, wondering if he’s traveling or if I just didn’t notice him at home. Then, suddenly, he calls seven times in ten minutes with a list of urgent items. Since this is Friday, a late-afternoon call most likely means that he has invited 27 visiting Chinese business associates to dinner, along with their interpreters, wives, children, and traveling pets. “Do you have extra pasta?” he will chirp innocently, if I answer the phone. Once, I asked him not to call me last-minute with guest announcements, and he opened wide his dark brown eyes and said, “Oh, you’d rather I just bring them straight to the house, honey?”
Edna. I met Edna through the Senior Help Line, when, in a nostalgic fit of missing my grandmother, I called to volunteer. Too gleefully, they assigned me to Edna, who, at 85, had lost most of her vision. “She needs a ride once in a while,” the coordinator lied. Edna needed a fleet of limousines, not a ride. Earlier in the week, I had rushed her through Target to buy underwear, the whole while listening to her grumble how she’d rather shop at K-mart. If this was Edna, she was calling for a “ride” to return the underwear, on our way to K-Mart.
My mother-in-law. Mom calls only for a purpose. Usually she’s looking for frequent flyer miles to upgrade her next airline ticket to first class. “You know that Billy wants us only in first class, dear,” she always reminds me. No matter that I myself fly folded into a windowless seat in the rear, within throw-up distance of the blue-stained toilet. If not frequent flyer miles, it will be a reminder that I should start organizing the family celebration of my father-in-law’s upcoming 80th birthday. The call will be short, if it is my mother-in-law, but it will cost me.
The car dealer. My husband leased a car one year ago and he claims that, in a moment of confusion, he gave the dealer my work number. Now this dealer wants his car back. I know because he’s called my office 15 times this week. My husband, aware that he owes a call — and a car — to the dealer, has sweetly assured me, “Sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness, not permission. I promise I’ll call him by the end of next week.”
Who wants me now? If being wanted is a true measure of worth, then I should be locked away in a bank vault. I let the phone ring on until, exhausted, it quits. I know that whoever it was will try again. I grab my hand mirror out of my purse. I stare intently at myself and slowly, deliberately mouth the word “No.” I watch as I practice: “No, I am sorry.” “No, I’m afraid I am not available for that.” “No, that just won’t be possible.” I try it nicely, firmly, and with a hint of anger. I add suggestions on who else might be of aid. I test whether I sincerely feel ill.
Who wants me now on Friday afternoon? The phone blares again. Reaching, I notice my laminated Martha card has fallen onto my desk. Jesus is staring up at me. “Martha, Martha,” I skim, “you are anxious and upset about many things.” This is true. I have a list to prove it. “One thing only is required.” I am reminded, again, to seek “the better portion.”
Quickly, I analyze: Which is the “better portion”: to say “no” to Edna, but “yes” to my husband? Perhaps it’s a “yes” to my boss, and a “no” to my daughter. Perhaps it’s a “yes” to everyone, and hope that I develop a sudden fever. I think about Mary — the person I am not, who sat patiently at Christ’s knee, listening, while her harried sister Martha filled the room with mounting anxiety. “Won’t anyone around here help me?” she finally blurts out. That’s me, all right. I am a Martha.
Who wants me at four o’clock on a Friday afternoon? Sometimes I have to repeat it over and over: “Martha, Martha, Martha, Martha.” It’s my Martha mantra. It’s my invitation to slow down and choose between Martha’s anxiety and Mary’s calm. It’s my reminder that this man Jesus wants me, too. But He wants me for Eternity.
“One thing only is required.” I take a deep yoga breath, slow myself, and chose the calm. That means I don’t have to have an answer when I pick up the phone. That means I can be certain only of this: that I will offer my caller my calm, even if I can’t fix the want. That’s my Mary side — the side that is doing the best she can to get to Eternity. Christ will help me with the rest. I grab the receiver and say, with a sigh, “Hello. Campbell here.”