This is the last in my series of post-election blogs. The sky hasn’t fallen, its time to move on, get to work and fight for living. On the way, you might want to try this.
When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time with my grandfather. He was a lean, loose-jointed man who didn’t make any noise when he walked. He made time for me, made me feel important. I loved him with something akin to hero-worship. He lived and made me laugh until I was 30-years-old, and I miss him every day.
I was 7 before I realized he couldn’t hear. He spoke clearly and slowly, and looked directly at me when he talked; something most adults didn’t do as they hurried me along with directional pushes, urging me to “Come on, we’ll be late.”
One bright Saturday, grandpa and I took a trolley to an afternoon St. Louis baseball game. The wind and the street noise made the stop calls hard to hear. As I watched our stop go by, I pulled at my grandpa, panicked that we were lost and would miss the game.
He was reading the sports news and had lost track of time. Adults lost track of time; I knew this from vast experience of parents who were late to games, school and picking me up from anywhere. Guiding me to the trolley conductor’s seat, Grandpa extended his hand straight out, signaling a “stop” motion. “Hey, Gus, You got money on the game? Thinking about your big winnings?” the conductor laughed and let us off at a non-stop in the middle of the highway. Grandpa walked ahead with his long strides, turning back to smile and wait for my slower progress.
“Come on, we have to walk back,” he chuckled and pulled me away from the road and half-inside his jacket. “It’s not far.”
“Why didn’t we get off at the stadium stop?” I asked.
“I wasn’t watching. I can’t hear the bell.”
“Was it too noisy outside? I looked up, seeking reassurance for this imperfection.
“No, honey, I’m deaf. I thought you knew.”
“Deaf? How would I know that? You always hear me.”
“No, I watch your lips move, I don’t hear much at all. I just know what you’re saying. I hear with my eyes.”
“Well, first I size up a person, figure out if they’re a fast talker. Then, I watch for the rhythm of their words. I just keep at it, keep working out the words. After awhile, there’s one more person I can hear. Practice.”
“Like the piano, like I practice the piano?”
“Sort of,” he agreed. But, there’s one difference. He smiled in that way that had always made me feel safe. “You see, when I don’t want to hear, I don’t have to. I just look up at the sky, or the trees, or into your face. I like looking into your face more than any other place. “I miss a whole lot a trouble when I forget to practice.” He laughed out loud, pleased with his secret way of sheltering his world from the things that frightened or annoyed him.
“Can I skip piano practice this week?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“No. You have your own practice, I have mine. Don’t forget that.”
I haven’t forgotten. Grandpa was deaf but his life was full of faces and words. Fate gave him the opportunity to choose what he wanted to hear. I can hear, but over time I learned that I still get to choose when I want to listen. If I practice, I can master the art of hearing the things that matter: the loving voice of my husband, the laughter of friends, the passion of people who care.
Oh, I’ll hear everything else too: The toxic tales, the disappointed dreamers and the surprised shock of those who can’t hear and won’t look. But just like Grandpa said, I can seek out the sky or look into the face of someone I love. I can save myself a whole lot of trouble with the practice of choosing what I want to hear.