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The Grunge Report: The Sound of a Familiar Voice

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In this muted world of Facebook, Twitter, too many emails, and not enough genuine conversation, a Wabash Magazine focused on “Voices” is spot on.

Tom Bambrey ’68, our former dean of students and current athletic director, once remarked to me that after his father passed away, the years had erased Tom’s ability to hear his father’s voice in his head. As he told me that story, I recalled vividly the loss I felt in not being able to recall my own father’s voice. At the same time, I celebrated my ability to still remember my mother’s voice.
Unfortunately, the march of time has erased that memory as well. I can re-create in my mind some of my mother’s sayings, but try as I might, they all sound like I am saying them. “Heavens to Betsy” was one of my mother’s frequently used terms—what that meant is beyond me. I remember hearing her say that, but I can’t “hear” her say it any more. Even after all these years and as I move through middle age toward my older years, she’s still “Mom” and I’m still “Tom.” Hearing her voice would be most welcome.
Sometimes, just hearing that tone and “feeling” in a familiar voice—detached from the subject matter in an odd sort of way—is the real communication. 
A couple of weeks ago I got a call from a good friend. We’re Air Force pilot buddies. That means we don’t need to talk for months or years, then we catch up in three nano-seconds.
But he never calls. It started oddly. “How are you guys?” “How’s your weather?”
Then came the line…“Remember that problem you had a couple of years ago? Well, I have the same one.” He’s telling me he has prostate cancer, just like I had. But he couldn’t say the “C” word, just like I couldn’t. Fliers are bulletproof—at least we think so. But I found out, and now he has, too, that we’re hardly bullet-resistant.
My friend tried to convince me he was unconcerned, but his voice told me otherwise. I tried to make my own voice suggest—as I do in all similar situations—that this is a problem-solving exercise and he’d be fine. We talked about PSA readings, scores, biopsies, options…all the stuff he knew already. But he seemed to become a little less anxious, and I hope my voice helped.
Did we need to hear each other? Absolutely. There’s no way two friends can get something like the Big “C” and not talk. I had flown that mission; he’s just sitting down to brief it. He wanted all the intel he could get—“a peek is worth a 1,000 
radar sweeps,” as we say.
He’ll be fine—I know that. Don’t ask me how, but I know it. A different voice told me so.
But hearing from him made me take stock of the voices that have shaped my life—those I’ve lost, those I love, those I look forward to hearing again. You might think about doing the same. Then pick up the phone and call a friend. You never know what the sound of a familiar voice can do.
Tom Runge ’71
Director of Alumni Affairs
Read The Grunge Report at