When I hear something, I hear it. I may respond distractedly, or with intense concentration. I may not quite hear it for a few seconds, when a word or phrase yanks me back into the room, back beside the person who spoke and then I will ask them to say it all again. In domestic situations, taking into account familial or relational baggage, I may find myself in the blast of a dismissive retort.
You never listen to me! I’m not going to talk to you until you put down that mobile, laptop, dog,book, whatever! Then follows a doggy-type following around, an apology (if you’re lucky), a plead to say it again, an ‘I AM listening, honest’…….sort of drama, which, if I am very lucky, ends well, although by this time, having pattered about whimpering and wagging my tail, I am so not interested anymore, even supposing whatever I didn’t listen to, on first delivery, could get me to the ball after all.
I have read much on the difference between hearing and listening, and, to be honest, am none the wiser, confusing the two whenever I deliver said difference in an astonishing phrase of pure wisdom. Nobody has ever corrected me, confirming my suspicions that nobody else gets the difference either. But I do know how critical it is to listen to what our children say and really hear it. Really not hearing it is the root beginning of an immense baggage collection, guaranteed foreign holidays for psychiatrists, counsellors and mediums, and establishing once and for all that 90% of our troubles, self-doubts and hangups stem solely from our mother.
But what about those things I hear without actively listening? Those words far off, lifted at random from another conversation, over there somewhere, that can float all by themselves into my head to settle on a comfy sofa, feet up, just waiting for the chance to rise into my concious mind. I can read something in a book, or in the poetry of a hymn in church and, without consciously choosing to remember any of it, I find myself looking at it as I wake in the early morning, hearing it anew, and marvelling at the brilliance of my aging brain. Because our senses are all linked by millions of little byroads, I might watch the movement of the clouds across a darkling sky and find words in my mouth and I don’t mean ‘Wow, look at THAT!’ It might be a line in a letter (does anyone remember the last letter that came through the post, with a stamp, licked by the writer and handed over by Amy the Post?) or it might be a phrase from the book I’m reading, or something someone said, but I don’t remember the time or the context. Somehow, it fits in with the clouds and the darkling sky and again I am astonished at the incredible majesty of the human brain, even though we only ever tap into about a third of its potential. Just think what we could do and who we could be, if we only knew how to build a mental motorway or, even just how we might repair the byroads already in place. But we don’t, despite all that irritating knowledge that highlights our human lack. Why do we have this immense brain in the first place?
As we grow older we begin, everso gradually, to lose the byroads we do have. One by one, they give way to sprawling grasses, weeds and foliage that turns a shortcut into a wilderness. Ok, we know this. We might not like it much, losing our glasses ten times a day, forgetting an appointment made some time before, leaving the margarine out of the cake, and so on, but it a fact of life and we may as well find the dance in it.
My old granny, long dead but unforgettable, never lost her dance. When it could no longer be found in her strong and shapely legs, or her long elegant feet, it was there in her eyes for all to see. In a shop, at a bus stop, in her own little flat, she brought that dance forward at every encounter with every person from the Red Cross collector, shaking her bucket outside the door, to the doctor or the minister, although she was highly suspicious of the minister, to be honest. Even in hospital, dying, she lifted her smile to every nurse, every orderly without exception, and she was no goody-goody I can tell you, being overly full of mischief and with a keen eye for the caricature. It was for herself, she danced, not to be seen to be dancing, for she had little care for such vanities.
Listening to my ears is not really possible. It makes little sense, suggesting that my ears have ears and, with a few large-eared exceptions, this seems an unlikelyhood. But when my little grandson said it to me this morning as we walked through a lovely wild place, I realised I had heard what he said twice. First, effortlessly, in the normal way, and then, again, as if I was hearing myself hearing. It made me realise, as I considered this new phenomenon, that not only is there wisdom, beyond their understanding, falling from the mouths of babes, but that, if I really think it through, this is the only way to live. If I do practise listening to my ears, I distance myself from an instant response, one that might cause an injury to another’s heart. Words spoken in haste, fuelled by baggage, can wound and wound deep. Words written in anger can live for a lifetime and beyond. But if I can learn to close my trap (oh hallo mother) and to keep my ears (all of them) open, I not only allow words to settle in the sofas of my mind, gently; not only allow the moment to move beyond my clutches, however much my fingers itch to capture and internalise it, but, in those precious moments of mouth closed, ears open, I can hear, albeit distantly, the grace notes floating across the divide and find that my feet take up the dance.