IS ANYBODY LISTENING?
My father stopped listening three weeks before he died. But for all those faithful years he was my dad, his spirited blue eyes focused their full attention on me whenever I spoke.
It wasn’t because my dad had nothing to say that made him a good listener; on the contrary, he was well read and curious about the world. I recall one afternoon when my eighty-one year old father asked my teenage daughter what was the difference between hip hop and rap.
Already suffering anticipatory grief, the last few weeks of my dad’s life was a rude awakening of the emptiness that was to fatefully follow. Not unlike when I was a child and I realized that I would never again experience my Aunt Marg’s homemade wild blueberry pie, this life altering moment with my dad would last forever.
At one of the last dinners I shared with my father, we were again having meat and potatoes. After three nights in a row of his favorite Irish fare, I said:
“I need some pasta.”
With a twinkle in his eye, my dad said: “That’s because you’re half Italian!”
We held our smiles a little longer than usual that evening; both fully aware that our last shared joke would have to last an eternity.
My father became a successful businessman because he focused on the task at hand. But that is not what we as a society do today. We multi-task, we no longer write hand written thank you notes and we ignore R.S.V.P requests. But most importantly, we don’t give someone our full attention when they are speaking.
Looking forward to quality dinner conversation with a few friends not long ago, no sooner had the waiter delivered our wine when a blackberry made its presence next to the forks and knifes. A casual conversation commenced, led by Miss Blackberry with the intention of steering the conversation so that she would have to look up innocuous facts. Such facts as: “Who was the 10th president of the United States? Since of course we didn’t know the answer, Miss Blackberry enthusiastically offered to look it up.
“Could I have another glass of wine please?” I politely asked the waiter as he scurried by.
As her fingers panned the blackberry screen in search of her trivial pursuit of anything, I couldn’t help but wonder: Is anybody listening?
Is it possible that the radio generation learned to listen and create mental images because they weren’t exposed to television and movies that now do all the work for us? I believe we need to relearn the art of listening.
When a student of the Zen Japanese sect of Mahayana Buddhism asked his Zen Master Ikkyu:
“Master, will you please write for me some maxims of the highest wisdom?”
Master Ikkyu replied:
Just like my yearning for my Aunt Marg’s homemade wild blueberry pies, the day my dad died, I lost the best listener in the world.