“Our job is to hear people into speech.”
Nelle Morton pulled those words from her spiritual, activist heart. She was the daughter of “a strong Appalachian Amazon” schoolteacher mother who readily provided Nelle with the means to grow insightful.
Her quote made me ask: Have I listened deeply enough to hear someone into speech? I’ve questioned people into expressing themselves. But listened them into speech?
How did Nelle pull such insight out of her fomenting wisdom? Is she a kindred spirit? Did she also have to think through lots of bafflement?
Did both our moms teach us to pull insights out of sheer bewilderment? I’ve had times of feeling simple. Nothing makes sense. Like the time a retired Anglican Bishop, Barry Valentine, said in a sermon: “I want to be the kind of listener who listens so deeply I risk allowing you to change my mind.”
Am I capable of becoming that willing? Isn’t life about defending one’s thought, space or desire? Wouldn’t willingness to deeply listen short-circuit the brain? Baffling thought.
I’ve been baffled about many things in life and continue to find a good chew on confusion. Even yesterday, on a great hike to the top of a mountain, a conundrum came to mind. It was about bicycles.
My Walk Buddy and I were climbing up a trail that offered very little zig-zagging; mostly an ‘up and over’ route meant for sure-footed deer. Spring rains and hardy ‘extreme’ cyclists had deemed the route mucky, full of ruts and slippery.
The cyclists had to have been pounding down that trail – encountering logs, rocks and roots. They’d have been flying though the air, landing on one wheel and just missing trees that deny a straight pathway. The speed and rough terrain would bounce eyeballs out of focus.
So, I thought: why don’t we see any signs of side-swiped trees, mashed bushes, broken bikes, bent wheels, flying parts or wounded hikers? I’m baffled by my 21-speed, off-road bicycle’s manual. It contains dire facts, cautionary instructions and must-do maintenance tips – so convincing, I’d be carrying it carefully down this trail.
Do other people even think about this stuff?
Coming up the last steep stretch before the mountain top, we heard voices. Our plan to sit and meditate in the sunshine with eagles, billowing clouds and endless views was thwarted. Instead we followed the safety fence and studied the views: to our left, the San Juan islands in the USA. Below us a bay once used for log sorting and now home to anchored house boats. To our right, Vancouver Island. The low tide emphasized the spot where cougar and bear often swim to our island when the distance, like now, is shortened.
What makes those gorgeous creatures decide it would be worth a swim to feed on a small island? What strong pull encourages them to get in the water and swim as though they were sea creatures?
Since Queen Elizabeth prefers Salt Spring Lamb and since we have a host of talented weavers ever needing more fleece, we protect our woolie beasties with determination.
Farmers’ dogs are often the first to alert us that a hungry visitor has arrived. The animal rescue officer is called to tranquilize the wandering creature and return it to Vancouver Island.
One morning a high school student was taking her usual shortcut to school on a trail through the bush. She bent down to re-tie her shoe and, before rising, noticed a hairy bear’s paw very near her foot. She smelled its breath. Fortunately, she frightened it. It took off through the bush and she ran the rest of the way to school – in the opposite direction. It definitely was not the teaching staff’s scheme for getting students to school on time.
That incident was enough to curtail hikes through trails until we were safe again. I grew up respecting wild animals in their natural homes. They didn’t frighten me. Animal behaviour, unpredictable when hungry and away from home, baffles me.
Speaking of low tides, back to the mountain top. We are looking down at a low tide in this photo.
I said to Walk Buddy, “Did you ever think about tides?”
Her face fell into an expression of dread. “What do you mean?” I believe she wanted to kick herself for asking.
“Well, look at that low tide. When we look at the shore on the neighbouring island – in the exact opposite direction – why don’t we see a high tide?”
“It’s because of the moon! The moon determines the tides…”
“Oh I know it’s the moon! But think about it. Whether we’re on the East or West side of our island, it’s low tide. Does that mean that all that water goes somewhere to a ‘middle’? If we went to the middle of the Pacific ocean, would we find a spot where the depth changes with the tides when the moon is doing its thing? How can all that water be pulled UP instead of being pulled from side to side?”
I realized I had only transferred my bafflement. Since we were without Google at that moment, it was time to change the subject. “Well, never mind. It’s kinda like the mystery about “sea level”. I used to ask all kinds of people who determined sea level. Who decided one particular location could be used? Was it at low tide or high? Until Google, no one could point me to an answer.”
Suddenly the voices were coming straight for us. My Walk Buddy greeted the strangers with delight (and relief) as they came closer. A family from Edmonton had good, straight-forward questions that didn’t need a Google search to answer.
Born curious and therefore frequently baffled, it’s been both a blessing and a curse. My mother was my internet in my juvenile years. Now, if the Internet didn’t exist, I may have become one who camps in obscure corners of libraries. I’d be blowing dust off volumes of encyclopedia or sifting through old magazines, losing track of time and not caring.
Google spoils me. I don’t have to be baffled for long any more. Trouble is, I’ve replaced listening skills with Net-searching skills.
I interrupted my Walk Buddy. I’ll have to ask if she had the answer about tides. Her expression spoke her feelings, but I may also be losing the ability to read body language.
Neither Nelle nor the good Bishop would give me points for progress. I didn’t practice hearing her into speech or listen deeply enough to see if my bafflement was merely silly curiosity.