Do You Hear?

We turned on the Christmas music early this year. Just-after-the-election-early. By Thanksgiving, we’d already rotated through our favorite albums oh, two or three times? Dean Martin’s on round seven, currently.

It just seemed we could all use a bit of soul salve.

My ears were tired, that’s all.

In my inbox last weekend: Did you hear? It’s the biggest sale event of the year.
In the local paper last week: Did you hear? Read everything you need to know about Aleppo* here.
At the coffee shop yesterday: Did you hear about Tony? His cancer’s back. Stage 3, yeah. Fourth time.
In my kitchen today: Did you hear me whistle? Mom! Did you hear, did you hear, did you hear?

There is so much to listen to.

I am nearly deaf in my left ear. A series of genetic strands granted me an inability to hear low tones in my left ear entirely, so it sounds as if I’m underwater unless a higher pitch cuts through.

Mostly, I lip read.
Mostly, I’m used to it.

But if I find myself in a loud room, there is fear. Did I hear you wrong? What was it you said? Did I get it right? Am I understanding you? Can you repeat that? I’m sorry, I don’t hear well.

I quiet down. I silence myself, out of fear that my questions might add to the noise. I stop talking.

Sometimes, I stop engaging entirely.

My friend is a songwriter and performer. She talks often about how, when the crowd feels restless to her, or when their eyes appear distracted, glazed over, lost in conversation or their phones, she’ll skip her typical crescendo in the song and quiet down. The audience notices. The energy shifts.

It works on toddlers, too, she told me once, swirling honey into her tea. You wanna get louder and yell in frustration — aren’t you listening to me?! — but a whisper works better.

Silence is never silence, after all.

10 things I have heard as of 8am this morning:
1. Sound machines humming.
2. Eggs frying.
3. Baby monitors beeping.
4. Clocks ticking.
5. Bacon sizzling.
6. Dogs stirring.
7. Toddler singing.
8. The running of the shower.
9. The running of the dryer.
10. The running of the mind.

Today, the crowd feels restless.

There are feuds to fuel and fingers to point and feet to plant, and it seems our solution is to talk at each other in all caps, wielding sharp words and sound bytes. There is a temptation to be heard. To buck up, to shake our fists and sound our foghorns as we observe all that is wrong with our world.

The room is loud.

I quiet down. I silence myself, out of fear that my questions might add to the noise. I stop talking.

I stop engaging entirely.

Last week, in the kitchen, my mother’s favorite Christmas song plays. Bee and I are stirring candied pecans, Scout is sleeping. The house is quiet, cozy, smelling of maple and spice.

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy,
do you hear what I hear
Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy,
do you hear what I hear
A song, a song, high above the trees
With a voice as big as the sea
With a voice as big as the sea

And I realize it all.

Now is not the time to quiet down. Now is not the time to silence ourselves out of fear that our questions might add to the chaos. Now is not the time to stop talking, to disengage entirely.

Now is not the time to cover our ears and miss the bigger voice – the higher pitch that promises to cut through the noise, if only we’re willing to listen.

If only we’re willing to wait expectantly, fervently for a song high above the trees.

Toni Morrison once wrote: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

There is a difference between noise and music.
There is a difference between a battle cry and an anthem.
There is a difference between a Tweet and a treatise.

Now is the time to listen hard, to skip our typical crescendos in lieu of something else.

Did I hear you? Am I understanding you?

It is Christmas.

There is a difference between a voice as big as the sea and a sea of big voices.

Now, more than ever, is the time to listen for it.


p.s. *A small, simple way to help our friends in Aleppo.

  • I just want you to know that your words reach me in a way few others ever do. Thank you for being here and keep sharing as your are able. Blessings to you and your family this Christmas!

  • Erin, your writing is so beautiful and most times I always feel like “me too” in your words. Thank you for posting this today:)

  • Thank you once again Erin.
    Since the election and I have been feeling overwhelmed with all the chatter and though I know this is not the time to disengage my love of silence has made doing just that more tempting than ever. But I am trying to speak out when needed but even more to listen as much as possible.

    And Aleppo… what has been happening there is literally shattering my heart daily. All those people. Those children (being a mother seeing them is almost more than I can bare). The tears I have shed, the donations I have made are of little solace to them or my soul.

  • Just a note of gratitude, Erin, as the Christmas music plays on. That Toni Morrison quote – that was everything I needed to hear today and your own words were such a sweet addition. Keep on keeping on, ears open.

  • Erin, As someone who is coming back into writing practice, I love your style. I have newly discovered you and it is delightful to hear someone speaking about so many things that are dear to me. Congrats on your new book and the wonderful things you are experiencing in this season!

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