Trying to Listen

(This morning at my gym, I sat in the lounge area next to a woman who was old but probably not as old as me. I smiled at her, she smiled weakly at me. She began to play music on her cellphone. I was immediately annoyed that she wasn’t using earphones, but I didn’t say anything. Very soon, however, a younger woman did say something, causing the older woman to stop the music and storm off, saying, “OK, you win!” So I challenged myself to write a story that would turn my irritation into empathy.)

She had to listen to it surrounded by people. But not people who knew her, knew him. She couldn’t, couldn’t listen alone, so alone, at home. In the house that now always felt empty and threatening. In the garden that felt so bare even with so much in leaf and bloom. She couldn’t listen with her children, whose grief sliced her already bleeding heart to shreds. She couldn’t listen with friends and neighbors, whose pity made her want to scream and throw things. Heavy things. With sharp edges. At them.

She tried the library. The problem was that she couldn’t listen with earphones that shut out all other sound and left her even more alone than alone. But other people looked at her with disapproving judgement and the librarian came over to tell her to use earphones or stop playing or leave.

She left.

She tried the coffee shop but still those looks. When the second person asked her to turn down the volume or use earphones or leave, she left.

She tried her gym. Just a few others sat in the lounge area in the chairs in front of the fake fire or at the small tables along the back wall. But it was a busy place. Right inside the door, before the registration desk, in front of the café area, across from the Kid Zone. Busy, noisy, people talking, walking, answering the phone, paging trainers, asking questions. Surely here. She sat in one of the chairs and started to play his last composition. His unfinished what? – not symphony. A weird piece with Eastern overtones and a heavy almost mournful…

“I’m sorry, but could you please turn that down? Or use earphones. It’s just too loud for me to concentrate,” asked – but really demanded – the assertive young woman now standing next to her. Where had she come from?

She smiled a weak smile at the seemingly polite young woman and turned the music off. Closed her eyes and just sat until she felt movement next to her. An older woman sat down in the nearby chair, gave her a soft smile.

“Maybe,” she thought, “maybe she is more tolerant – or more hard of hearing.”

She turned the sound down a bit and restarted the music. The young woman came quickly from the table behind her.

“I’m sorry, but that is still too loud. You sh…”

“OK, you win,” she said angrily to the empty too-full world, as she turned off the music and fled before she sobbed her too loud sobs.

Summer Stream

I sit on a wooden stool in the corner of the yoga platform Woody built for me in the very backest corner of the back shade garden. May has barely come yet already the air sits with summer heaviness around me. My vision is green filtered. I hear the stream, not a brook, just a stream, that now flows from one side of the garden to the pond that is on the other side, just before the barn-red garden shed with moss growing on the roof. Our stream – and it is just ours, beginning and ending its life on our property – our stream flows over and around and alongside Woody’s rocks. He told me once that he thought he had moved each rock at least four times: once into the van from wherever he found it, once out of the van into the back that was truly then just an English yard and not yet a garden, once into position where he wanted it, and again into position where he liked it better. He dug the pond bed and the stream bed. He laid the pipe and the liner and installed pump and filter, he positioned the rocks and he planted the plants and young trees, all under and within the secret shaded space between the rising spruces. All carefully planned so that, sitting here in early summer, I would see, hear, smell, feel, know only nature’s beauty. Flowering rhododendron, fading Lenten roses, fiddlehead ferns, vinca, other plants whose names I never remember despite his patiently repeated namings, leafing redbuds, flowing stream. And so I do, I see nature not conformed but transformed. And I also see Woody, not in a grain of sand or in the palm of my hand, but invisibly here.

Two for Fun

In Honor of Dorothy Parker

One perfect verse
She wrote one perfect verse.
Why is it, do you suppose,
I can never manage
Even one perfect curse?


Rhyming Time

Once upon a time
I wrote a silly rhyme
When I heard a soft chime
While I rubbed a silver dime
As I sucked a sprig of thyme
After I washed away some grime
And I squeezed a sour lime
Then I danced a silent mime
Because I solved a secret crime
Once upon a time.


Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2 (NRSV)

Form flows
Conscious of conform

Body mind spirit
Transform in transit

Spiritual synchrony
Religious remembrances

Conform to what
Worldly wisdom
Successly striving?

Transform to what
Religiously righteous
Didactically dogmatic?

Discernment discovery
Eludes easy
Knowledge karma
Lyrical elegance
Spiritual sustenance
Truth telling

Quintessential questing
How to know
Where to find
Who to trust
When to rest
In what may just be

And perfect

Divine harmony
For me

Free form