A handwritten letter came in the mail from Kathy.
I don’t know Kathy. Or where she lives. But I’d like to talk to her.
I need to hear her voice. And she must hear mine. Even if it’s for a few moments.
Her letter has been waiting on my desk since it arrived. No return address. No contact info. Just Kathy.
I can’t file it away. I can’t ignore it. I must respond somehow – and I guess this it.
Here is the heart of what she wrote:
“I’d like to thank you for writing your column on loneliness. I live alone, with only my dog for company. She’s still a puppy, sometimes ill-behaved. But it’s another set of ears for me to speak to.
“I never, ever would have believed that I would be so lonely in my own home. It’s a comfortable house. I have everything I need. I could buy anything I want, but I am just plain lonesome. Lots of times I’d give anything just to hear another voice.
“My family texts me every day. They think text and talk are equal. I don’t agree.
“When I was off work, due to COVID school closings for over a year, I think was the worst time. Trying to isolate, stay healthy, our family was very cautious. We were apart for the holidays, birthdays, the whole world seemed isolated.
“I thanked God for my neighbor! We talked in our yards, across the fence. Just seeing another person, hearing a voice!! …
“Plenty of things for a person at home, alone, to worry about! I can’t believe how very lonesome I felt. I didn’t think anyone would understand just how it is to not [she underlined the word ‘not’ twice] talk to a person, to not express your thoughts or feelings. Pretty soon, you just think no one else even cares.
“I won’t go on and on. ... I want to thank you for recognizing loneliness, it’s so real!!!”
I received a lot of feedback on the column Kathy mentions. Clearly there are many who struggle with living alone. This letter, however, takes that personal battle to another level.
There is a thread throughout Kathy’s letter that wraps around the importance of the human voice.
I can’t stop thinking about her words. Her need. And it feels strange to a me because I preach the importance of and beauty of silence.
But Kathy’s world is about more than silence. It’s also about emptiness.
Suddenly it’s worth noting the many times I have heard my wife on the phone, talking to one of our sons. She has no pressing reason for the call, which she explains simply by saying, “I just needed to hear your voice.”
Needed. To hear. Your voice.
The human voice. I can see now it’s importance. How it stands in partnership with the human touch and helps us connect and bond to people we care about.
I realize that my memories of family and friends who are gone revolve around their voices. I hear them in my head more than I see them.
I have my dad’s voice recorded. I cannot get myself to listen, and it’s been more than seven years since he passed.
Hearing his voice would put him in the room again — so close but … .
So close. Could it be our voices are an extension of touch? Hearing again but without touching, hugging, would be painful.
Shutting off his voice would be like physically letting go. Again.
Our voice is about more that words and what we say. This probably starts before birth with the vibrations that seep into the womb. How soon do we connect to the voice of our mother?
Researchers have found that fetuses respond to their mother’s voice with an accelerated heart rate.
A Stanford University School of Medicine study (2016) has shown children’s brains are much more engaged by their mother’s voice than by voices of female strangers.
Mom’s voice triggers areas of the brain that involves emotion and reward processing, social functions, detection of what is personally relevant and face recognition, researchers said.
Our voices are calling cards. Recognizable. Even when we do no know the person, we begin to form an image, don’t we?
No wonder voices shout out in our memories.
No wonder they are so important to Kathy … and all of us.
I might never get a chance to talk to Kathy. Unless she reaches out again. I hope she does.
Because what she wrote seems so relevant and important.
I want to hear the sound of her voice.
And I want Kathy to hear my voice when I say, “Thank you.”
• Lonny Cain, retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa, also was a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet in the 1970s. Email email@example.com or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.