“I have learnt silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange,
I am ungrateful to those teachers.” ~ Khalil Gibran.
My Auntie Elsie remained unmarried until she died. She was the eldest of six children, and we don’t know if it was because she stayed home to take care of her parents, or whether she was too picky. She lived alone after they died, on a busy street in Liverpool. There was a bus stop in front of her house, and she was endlessly entertained by the comings and goings on her street. And endlessly annoyed by the litterers who would dump their fish and chip papers over her garden wall after a night out. I remember visiting her when she was in her 70’s. She called me over to her front window to show me an elderly man hustling down a windy road. She had almost married him, she told me, but was glad she didn’t. Now he was bald and had a paunch!
As well as being picky, Auntie Elsie was deaf, and wore a hearing aid. Despite it being expensive, and disguised as a hair barrette, it still made conversation difficult. We were forever being accused of mumbling, or shouting. It was hard to find the happy medium. Oh yes, and it was rude to nod or shake your head in answer to simple questions, so that didn’t work either. Since (like my mother and the rest of her sisters) my Auntie loved to talk, when we visited as children we mostly sat around in stunned silence, on our best behavior, waiting for the visit to end.
Deafness, of all of the sensory losses, is probably the least sympathetic. We tend to get annoyed at the person who cannot hear us. And poor Auntie Elsie also suffered from tinnitus, a disorder that creates constant ringing in your ears. Once, when she had gone on a clackety train ride up into the mountains of Wales, she declared it to be quite wonderful. The bone rattling noisy ride had completely drowned out the constant noise that she lived with.
The other day I listened to an interview of a gentleman who studies the sounds of nature, and he spoke of the joy of quiet. It is hard to find quiet in our busy lives, especially if we live in urban areas. The human ear, he said, was designed to hear the sound of bird song from miles away. The presence of birds indicates a healthy habitat, one that could support our ancestors, the hunter gatherers. But how often do we stop to listen for birdsong in our busy lives? And are we missing the messages that the earth is sending us when species disappear; when the bees stop making honey; when decisions are made in the interest of profits instead of people?
There are proven benefits to connecting with nature. Many gardeners will tell you that weeding and feeding and trimming and digging is therapeutic, a form of stress relief. Of course, for those who are missing a green thumb, it may be the opposite! Yesterday I visited a sanctuary, a well tended mangrove habitat in Barbados. Unfortunately, for undisclosed reasons, the carefully designed trails and boardwalks were closed indefinitely. The aviary with its colorful flocks of flamingoes and ibis and roseate spoonbill could only be viewed from one small area, through the chainlink fence. The gardens were neat and well kept, the lawn smooth and enticing, available for weddings and such. But we could only stare off into the distance, across the fish filled tannin water of the placid mangrove edged lake to the flocks of storks and cranes that rested in the bushes beyond.
Close up we heard an array of birds, flitting through the trees. The tamer ones tiptoed up to us, looking for handouts. Sleek black birds watched us cautiously. Pretty brown doves with checkered wings and reddish heads cooed at us. We listened. We watched long fish trolling the shallow water, dorsal fins tipping above the water pretending to be sharks. Every so often they would roll, showing a silvery underside in contrast to their dark upper surface.
What are we missing when we don’t pause and listen? What do we miss in conversation when we don’t listen to the silence between the words? What do we mishear, misinterpret and misunderstand when we listen superficially, busy with our own thoughts, preparing our next response? Sometimes you will be surprised when you allow the other person to clarify, to dig deeper and expose truer emotions. How many things did you mishear in childhood, realizing much later in life what was actually said? As a child, I learned to be careful in the bush of New Longsville. There were shrubs covered in huge thorns that could do real damage if they pierced your flesh. ‘Casha and macca’ they were called. Imagine my surprise when I visited another nature reserve and saw the bush labeled ‘Sweet Acacia’. So that was the Casha of my childhood!
My father had an old friend, a retired Welsh minister who lived in Jamaica for years, and married a descendant of the German settlers. In one of his sermons he mentioned the Jamaican folk song ‘Chi chi bud-oh! Some of them are hollow, some are bald!’ (The actual words ‘some a dem a holla, some a bawl’ are referring to the noises Jamaican birds make – some of them holler, some bawl!). He too suffered from profound deafness in later life. My father would jot down notes for him when they went to church meetings together, to keep him informed. Of course my father could not resist adding his own editorial comments and side jokes, causing his friend to guffaw loudly and inappropriately, no doubt drawing frowns from the other attendees.
This Friday morning as I struggle to write on my iPad (not as user friendly as a laptop) I give thanks for life, for the senses to appreciate the riches we are surrounded by. I am finally visiting Barbados, despite many links that should have brought me here years ago. The strange sight of a family of monkeys out for a morning jaunt caught me unprepared. I have sampled flying fish, and doubles. I have sat entranced by a sunset. And I have listened.
Have a fabulous weekend Family! May you find joy in the quiet, and give your senses plenty to appreciate.