A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Telephone Call

by Anne Kerrigan

“Follow your conscience and sleep well.”
Frank Sonnenberg, American award-winning author and well known advocate for moral character and personal values.

“Man cannot suffer more than from a guilty conscience.”
Eraldo Banovac, Croation educator.

It was a lovely spring day, and my husband was outside mowing the lawn. It was the mid 1980’s and, after twenty years in our house, we were still struggling to maintain a decent lawn. I was busy inside, in the midst of some heavy spring cleaning when the phone rang. It was a neighbour from a few blocks over, and I was surprised to hear from her. I only knew her casually from church, so I thought she might be calling me to tell me some news from the parish. After some casual conversation, I was still wondering why she had called me. 

“Anne, I am calling to ask your forgiveness.”

Now, I was really confused. I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. I even considered that she had called the wrong person.

‘Excuse me?” I said. “I really don’t understand.”

“When you had those children living with you, I was very upset. I said terrible things about you to a lot of people. Please forgive me. I am not hanging up until you forgive me.”

She went on to say that when my husband and I had the foster children in our home, she was very upset. She said she complained to many people, expressing her anger and frustration with us for “invading her neighbourhood.” I can only guess that she had seen us in church with our African-American babies and was not happy about the situation. Now, at that time, having minority children living in West Islip1 in the 1960’s might have been a shock to the system for some, but most people had been politely curious. At least I thought they were being politely curious!  Who knows? But, I was not naïve. I did anticipate that some people would not be happy with our foster care arrangements, but the reality was that I didn’t care. Let them talk, gossip, rant and rave. I knew we were doing the right thing by caring for these beautiful babies, so let the chips fall where they may. Yet, this telephone call was a total surprise especially since it came almost ten years after our last foster child, our beloved Freddie, left us. Whatever she said about us must have really been bothering her! I really was almost speechless. She kept asking for my forgiveness, and I told her that of course I forgave her. Her sigh of relief was almost palpable. 

I actually don’t recall many specifics about that conversation, but I do recall that it was friendly and positive; social noise intermingled with a few laughs.

Over the years, I often saw her at church and occasional parish social functions, and our interactions were always positive and friendly. 

That phone call was an exchange which I have never forgotten. In my opinion, it was very courageous of her to initiate contact after so many years.  In her mind, she had offended us and it still bothered her, years later. She could easily have let it slide, but obviously she wanted to correct the situation. In retrospect, I am very grateful she did connect with us. I feel that the very positive exchange was helpful for both of us; for me, it was an example of moral courage and for her, peace.

Years and years later, she is in heaven and I am left with the sweet memory of that brave telephone call.

1 Long Island, New York where 96% of the population identified as white in the 2020 census

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