FMM 3 1 19 Existential Filter

“Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore.

One of the features of growing up in a large family is the noise.  Shouting, laughing, arguing, crying, the only time the poor parents have peace is when all the children are asleep.  Which reminds me of the Jamaican t-shirt with the cartoon of the man and woman on the front. The woman is saying “All I want is some peace and quiet!” to which the man responds “Give me piece and I’ll be quiet!” Which I am sure is no longer politically correct!

When you grow up in large, noisy, talkative families where stories are told for maximum entertainment, where the day’s activities are relived for others to share, you are either going to join in or retreat.  As the youngest I think I did a bit of both.  For in trying to join in with the big kids I was liable to mispronounce words, or give my brother some item to tease me with later.  If things did get out of hand it would only take my father pronouncing: “That’s enough!” for arguments to be over, for the next step would be “Bed!”

When we think about how we would react to losing any of our senses, most people see blindness as the most difficult to deal with.  Anyone who has had even a temporary loss of vision, or even reduced vision, has found their life changed dramatically.  Sudden dependence on others for transportation can be very humbling.  The realization of how much we need to see to do virtually all of our day to day activities is stunning.  But there are other senses that we take for granted also.  Our sense of smell and taste add so much to our enjoyment of food preparation and consumption that our appetite seems to diminish when we lose those.  It is our sense of touch that helps us to identify threats and treats, enables us to make contact with our nearest and dearest, lets us show our concern when words are not enough.

And music.  Who can live without music?  The other day we started to hear an ad (and until now I cannot tell you what the ad is for, so it failed in that regard) which was introduced by a song.  The song tormented us for a while, because the words made no sense. “My Mama, she gave me, these something somethings”.  These feathered breasts?  These fettered breasts?  These feathered breaths?  What?  We argued back and forth.  What are feathered breasts and how much sneezing would a breastfed baby do?  But at least mothers would not feel so exposed if they had feathered breasts!  But did feathered breaths make any more sense?  What are feathered breaths?

Fortunately for most of us, arguments about random events, song lyrics, football scores, the name of the actor in that movie, can all be solved with a well worded question to Mr. Google. I know some call her Mrs. Google, but most women don’t have that much time on their hands!! Anyway, it turns out that I was wrong, it was feathered breaths.  I believe the lyrics were first written in French: ‘souffles a plumes’ sounds wonderful, and went on to describe the gift of song. I guess her mother had given her the ability to sing on feathered breaths.  I still like the image of feathered breasts though, come to think of it, many of the Carnival costumes involve feathers all over!

When a song takes a hold of you, when it keeps repeating over and over again all day long, they call it an ear worm.  For those who are repulsed by the image of bugs and disgusting things, that may not be very appealing, but it is very descriptive.  You can see the song worming its way from your auditory canal into that part of the brain that directs singing, which is a different part of the brain than that for speech.  One of the most amazing features of dementia is that many of those who have lost so many memories are still able to remember and sing song lyrics.

I was listening to a story the other day (road trips are great times to listen to audio books!) where a medical student was asked to name the only medicine that is administered through the ear in an emergency.  The answer was ‘words of comfort’.  Which is so true, yet I had never heard it expressed in that way before.  We are taught, and we teach, that the sense of hearing is the last to go, therefore never stop talking to your patients.  But to think of words of comfort as medicine was a beautiful thing.  When I was trying to give birth to my last child, things were not going well.  My contractions had stopped, the baby’s heart rate was terrifyingly slow, and a room full of doctors, medical students and more all seemed to be yelling at me to push the baby out.  It was the calm voice of the midwife who had arrived late on the scene that broke through the madness and kept me focused.

I heard the term ‘existential filter’ the other day.  It was used to describe the clarity that comes to someone who has had to face their own mortality.  Most of us go through life as if we will live forever.  Sure we know that death is inevitable, but only at the end of a very long and perfect life.  So for those who have a close call, or who have to listen to a physician tell them they have cancer, or some other potentially terminal disease, all of a sudden life takes on a totally different appearance.  The news focuses the attention, makes life’s usual distractions fade away to insignificance, brings those things which truly matter to the foreground.

This Friday morning I hope you are able to appreciate life through all of your senses.  I hope you can recognize those things which are most important to you without it taking an existential crisis.  I hope you can sing with feathered breaths, smell and taste delicious food, hear important words of courage and calm, see how beautiful life is, and touch and be touched by those you care about.  Have a wonderful weekend, Family!

One Love!


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