A wise old owl sat in an oak.
The more he heard, the less he spoke.
The less he spoke, the more he heard.
Why can’t we be more like that wise old bird?
- Mother Goose
Here’s a fact that will surprise no one who knows me or reads this Blog: I have a lot to say. A lifetime of reading and writing and reflecting on experience, a determination to build a coherent vision thought by thought, a commitment to speak both for my own ever-emerging clarity and on behalf of others who need the words, all lie behind my obsession with expressing my thoughts. Thoughts that are the meeting place of a multiplicity of others’ thoughts (reading) re-expressed in my thoughts (writing) drawing from my own unique experiences (reflecting). Like I said, I have a lot to say.
I’ve often said that had I not become a music teacher, I might have liked to be a lawyer because I find myself constantly mounting a defense for a client who didn’t hire me, building a case without the formal credentials to speak in court. I’ve contracted myself to defend the missing pieces in our culture— the essential presence of sincere art, the dignity and delight of children, the needed uplift of playfulness, beauty, humor, the conversation between solitude and sociability, the allegiance to justice and more.
Like any defense attorney, I can get tangled up in my own argument, determined to only listen to that which proves my case. In court, that makes sense, but in life, I need to sometimes shut up and just listen. Don’t we all.
So when a colleague texted me this morning that his mother had died, I suggested we talk when he is ready. My first impulse might be to share my own experience and give my thoughts on death and honoring the departed, but my second impulse tapped the first on the shoulder and suggested something else. My first words when he calls will be, “Tell me about her.” And then I will listen.
We could all use more conversations like that. “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine” said Mary Oliver, reminding us of the kinds of stories we carry worth listening to. Not our beliefs, political or religious dogmas, conspiracy theories, blamings of others, but our authentic stories of despair and joy, of blessings and loss, of hopes realized and dreams deferred. How we held up and how we fell apart, how we moved forward and how we hunkered down, how we carried the great weight of grief and how we flew with the unbearable lightness of being.
Death is the land mine that blows apart our business-as-usual-self trying to have a nice day and when it knocks on our neighbor’s door, we often try to side-step it with a superficial Facebook “condolences, thoughts and prayers” and then get on with our day. “Tell me about her” opens up another level, the beginning of the many ways we learn to keep those we loved in the present tense. And we will need friends who will take the time to listen.
Thank you for listening.