Friday, May 26, 2017

the difference between mermaids and noise

I'm sitting at my dining room table.  Ten feet in front of me several teams of hummingbirds are warring over the favored nectar bank.  The window that separates us is one of the best features of the house.  Just beyond the window is the front porch and hummingbird traffic zone.  Beyond that is the front yard and beyond that is a field of high grass and wildflowers.  You can see the majority of the 10 acres from this seat, including the eastern sky that funnels the morning sun into the dining room.  

The first day I ate breakfast here six years ago I looked up between bites and saw a baby deer frolicking across the front yard.  I often see our hawk looking for his breakfast from the top of the tall pine.  On the very best mornings the kids scarf down their food and run off to adventures, leaving G and I to sit at the table talking and daring one another to have another sugar filled coffee.  I do love to eat, but I've learned that eating is not the best thing about sitting at the dining room table.  

That first morning six years ago, I learned to watch and enjoy the silence.  It was a great lesson and one that has treated me well.  

Right now, while I'm typing, Blue and Violet are sitting in the living room watching TV with volume up way too loud.  Each of them also has an iPod in their hands simultaneously playing some game.  Two things at once.  Every now and then one of them will begin to narrate their game out loud.  Then they'll fall out of their chair where they were sitting upside down and use the opportunity to cuddle with Timber.  

And last week, last week I observed the most heinous of all sins.  During our sand sculpting class we spent several days on the beach all day.  We were surrounded by the most gloriously wonderful of sound mixtures.  The wind, the surf, and the occasional gull or gleeful child laugh made a beautiful cocktail of sound.  Sitting on the beach with only these sounds is one of my favorite things about a beach vacation.  But you can always count on some Philistine to lug a speaker or radio out and plop it down beside you to try to drown out all the "noise" of the natural surroundings.  

My kids and my students have become dependent on the noise of distraction.  We can't drive to Walmart without Blue wanting to put his headphones in.  My students can't take their earbuds out long enough to weld.  I explain that they need to learn to hear the different sounds of the machines so they'll know when things are going well or going wrong.  They respond, "What?!" and then they pause their music until I walk away.  

Last week the beach reminded me of the need to listen.  When I returned home and caught up on emails I saw that my Dean had shared an article she wrote about the importance of poetry.  In her article she quoted T.S. Elliot in his story about a man who lived his life filled with the busy-ness of noise and never stopped to take the time to observe and listen to what life was saying to him.  Near the end of his life he lamented his choices and imagined that he could "hear the mermaids singing" while knowing that he had never taken the time to listen and it was too late for him. 

I believe we are all afraid to listen.
What if we get a great idea?  What if we have to act on it?  What if we try and fail?  What if we look ridiculous?  What will people think?  Fear hands us the earbuds.  Fear turns up the volume.  Fear keeps us exactly where we were yesterday.  Fear keeps us comfortable.

From my dining room table, I can hear the mermaids singing.  I can hear them from my front porch swing, from my beach chair and sometimes I can even hear them over the shrill shouting of the grinder.

I realize it is my job to help others hear their song.  So I'll drag my kids into the woods and across the lake, forcing them to leave their iPods at home.  I'll pull my students' earbuds out so they can actually think.  And I'll do my best to steer them all away from the figurative noise that tries to steal away their creativity.  

And at night, I'll put my own ridiculous phone down and take a break from endless scrolling until the mermaids sing me to sleep.

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