“I alternate between thinking of the planet as home
– dear and familiar stone hearth and garden –
and as a hard land of exile in which we are all sojourners.”
~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone To Talk
I find it very difficult to admit I am as temporary as a dew drop on a leaf, a mere mirrored reflection of this incredible place where I dwell. I want it to last, I want it etched in stone, I want to be remembered beyond the next generation, I want not to be lost to the ether.
Yet I, like everyone, am sojourner only, not settled and certainly not lasting. As a garden flourishes and then dies back, so will I. This is exile in the wilderness until I am led back home.
At a certain point you say to the woods, to the sea, to the mountains, the world, now I am ready. Now I will stop and be wholly attentive. You empty yourself and wait, listening. After a time you hear it: there is nothing there. There is nothing but those things only, those created objects, discrete, growing or holding, or swaying, being rained on or raining, held, flooding or ebbing, standing, or spread. You feel the world’s word as a tension, a hum, a single chorused note everywhere the same. This is it: this hum in the silence…
There is a vibrancy to the silence, a suppression, as if someone were gagging the world. But you wait, you give your life’s length to listening, and nothing happens… The silence is all there is. It is the alpha and the omega. It is God’s brooding over the face of the waters; it is the blended note of the ten thousand things, the whine of wings. You take a step in the right direction to pray to this silence, and even to address the prayer to “World.” Distinctions blur. Quit your tents. Pray without ceasing. ~Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk
There is a moment that I anticipate every time I wash long-impacted ear wax out of a patient’s ear canals when they have had difficulty hearing. It can take one minute or maybe thirty to accomplish, but it is worth the effort. When the wax dislodges and flows out into the catch basin, I see the same anticipatory look on each patient’s face. Their eyes widen, their mouth forms an “O” in sudden recognition of their new readiness to hear. There may not be a sound in the room, but there is something different about the new silence that was not true before. This silence is ready to be broken, its vibrant hum no longer suppressed.
Usually we don’t even realize what we can’t hear over time; we don’t know what we are missing or how we are losing connection. The day comes when we wake completely deaf, too full to hear or acknowledge anything outside ourselves.
So it is necessary to be washed clean, the blockage removed, the barriers broken down, the connection restored to everything and everyone around us. We are emptied out in order to be filled through listening. Our eyes widen in order to see again, our mouths open to pray in gratitude without ceasing. The silence is no more.