Purgatory is being on hold

Hello. How are you? Have you been all right, through all those lonely lonely lonely lonely lonely nights?
That’s what I’d say. I’d tell you everything
If you’d pick up that telephone

(“Telephone Line,” Electric Light Orchestra)

God sure does seem a long way up there. Photo: Rick Francis
Photo credit: Rick Francis

I recently called an 800  number and, in an effort to serve me better, they put me on hold. Of course my call was very important to them, so I waited 10 minutes, after which I hung up because I was only returning their call anyway. (They had said it was urgent.) So screw ’em, let them call me back if they want to talk to me.

My beef with this situation was not that I had to wait for someone to answer. I was stuck in traffic (so I was already in a mellow mood, right?), and because I knew my call was important to them I didn’t mind waiting for a little while. It was the on-hold music that did me in, and it wasn’t the music’s fault either. It was the dang delivery system, or speaker, or play-back or whatever. It was something like “You Light Up My Life” played by the Lush Strings Orchestra, and it sounded like they were just playing every few notes. No continual flow of music, just this nightmarish in and out: every two or three seconds the music would disappear, like a boat bobbing on waves rising in and out of view. Sorry for the mixed metaphor.

Whatever the music was (and I’m pretty sure it was terrible), I both (A) couldn’t, painfully, tell what it was and (B) had to listen very, very closely, because my call was important to them and it any second a representative could come on the line and tell me so, and since the sound was coming and going I might miss the representative.

So here I am at rush hour, listening intently to this terrible, sporadic signal of something that would be just barely bearable under the best of circumstances. And I thought to myself, because this is the kind of thought that just helps itself to my brain: I thought “I bet this is how a lot people feel about God.”

For a lot of people I know, this is a pretty good metaphor for their relationship with God: it’s both urgent and deeply frustrating. They’re trying to get through on the line, because after all they are aware on some level that God called them first and they want to be polite. It appears that God has put them on hold, and despite wanting to believe that their call is very important to God, God never freaking answers the phone, and furthermore the signal they DO get has all this intermittent bad music–static alternating with silence–and they start to worry that the call has been lost, that maybe the line has gone dead.


Are you there, God? It’s me.

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