The phone was ringing in his dorm room, and we all knew he liked talking on the phone. It was probably his girlfriend (he talked to her the most), but there was no way of knowing for sure. I expected him to excuse himself from our conversation, but he didn’t. He didn’t even flinch or glance away. He just sat there in the hallway, eyes focused on me, waiting to hear the rest of what I was saying.
I don’t remember what I was saying. I don’t remember what he said, either. All I remember is the moment he ignored the phone for the sake of our conversation. That moment is permanently etched on my mind.
It’s not just that it was unexpected, although that’s certainly true. The normal thing would have been to let the person contacting him from afar interrupt his focus on the person in front of him. Texts, emails, notifications, and especially phone calls shout for immediate attention, yelling at us not only from nearby rooms but now from our own pockets and wrists. Curiosity kicks in, and we’ve got to know what’s happening. A quick glance, a quick read, an “I’d better answer this, sorry”. It’s normal. It’s accepted. Sometimes it’s necessary. We expect each other to give immediate attention to whoever tugs on our invisible tethers.
But the phone kept ringing.
I had to think for a moment to remember what I was saying. My concentration had slipped, even though his hadn’t. He was still locked in, and his unwavering interest made me believe that my words mattered. That I mattered. He was ignoring the phone to hear me out. He was valuing me above his curiosity, above developing an “in-demand” image, above the yelling attention machine.
Years later, I still remember.