Still Listening

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All of our senses are registries of experience. Smell is said to conjure up the most vivid memories … but the sounds to which we’ve listened certainly bear witness to much of whom we are and where we’ve been. 

When my sons were babies, I used to listen for their breathing—if it was not pronounced enough to satisfy a young, inexperienced mother’s idea of baby breathing … I woke them up, at which time I listened to several minutes of wailing protest. The sound of their hearts beating on the prenatal monitor when I was in labor, when I’d put my ear to their chest while they slept next to me when they were small, and now when they squeeze me into their chests (with a bear hug) as grown men is a sound for which I’ll always listen.

I’ve listened to rain, the Beatles, my mother’s advice, gospel choirs, Bill Cosby and George Carlin, lies from family-friends-politicians-pitchmen on commercials and from strangers at parties, Carol King’s Tapestry (until the album  warped—now it’s a CD), good teachers, bad teachers, funny jokes, sad stories, wind in the trees, wolves howling,  basketball/football/soccer teams celebrating and crying foul, the voices of women when working together, my father’s whistling, my husband telling the boys wonderful (original) bed time stories, my father-in-law’s story of landfall in Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped, my grandmother’s story about “Yankees” riding through the hall of her North Georgia home at the end of the Civil War, my brother’s first sermon from the pulpit, my sons’ tears from their broken hearts, the promise of a friend to, “… always be there,” Neil Armstrong’s first words from the moon, Johnny Carson’s last farewell, the inaugural addresses of every U.S. President from J.F.K. to W, the voices of the marchers at Kent State, the librarian in my small town reading Green Eggs and Ham to me … and my children, doctors when offering no hope for (mother, father, in-laws, brother-in-law, nephew, niece, aunt, uncle, grandparent), frustration of a mother whose son is at war, the elation of the same mother when he returned, cicadas in the heat of a southern afternoon, the splash and gurgle of water in  a cool creek, my mother and her sisters singing three-part harmony while they rocked on the front porch, traffic on I-95 just outside the back door of my brother’s south Florida home, the bells of Notre Dame, Christmas carols, Maya Angelou’s poetry, my son’s poetry (I like his best of all …), the works of William Shakespeare, Mr. Wizard, David Brinkley and Chet Huntley’s take on the day’s events,  the roar of  ocean waves, church bells pealing, high school bands at halftime on Friday nights, kittens purring, a T-Model Ford cranking up, the winner’s supporters on election night, the loser’s supporters on election night, my children throwing up because of a stomach virus, my children throwing up because of rum and coke, the news that I had gotten the job, the news I hadn’t, the sound of sirens outside my window, the sound of Parisian sirens in the night,  geese honking as they head south, a tractor cutting the field in the spring, honey bees buzzing around their hive, children laughing on a playground, Elton John performing Rocket Man, whoops of excitement when teenagers dive off rock cliffs into the lake, Whip-o-wills in the twilight, thunder snow, thunderstorms, thunderous applause,  boos/hoots/and “get the bum out-a-here(s)”, reassurances that “everything is going to be okay,”  admissions that it’s not, the phone ringing at 5:30 a.m. when my teenage son had rolled a Maddox calling the Georgia Legislature to session, the sound of the Mississippi, Columbia, Missouri, Colorado, Snake and Conasauga Rivers,  my husband’s wedding vows, the welcome sound of plane tires making contact with runways, memories of a Vietnam P.O.W., hundreds of “I love you(s),” an occasional “I hate you” from parents/ siblings/husband/children/friends, my mother’s last words and breath, my father’s laughter and his voice in song, hellos, goodbyes and I’m sorry(s), the sweetness of my grandchild’s sighs in peaceful sleep.

What have I listened for? … Life, love, hope, happiness, peace, bliss …  

Have I heard enough? … Not nearly …

Have I listened when I should? … Can’t say for sure but I’ll keep trying …

Will I, one day, hear that small still voice of my authentic self? 

Maybe that small, still voice is the distilled essence of all those sounds, words, and moments—everything from our mother’s heart beat to the last sound heard before we leave this mortal realm?

I will keep listening to the cacophony—in all its beauty, horror, joy, and sorrow—harmony comes with the blending of the distinct parts: the harmony of life.


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