I awoke this morning to the familiar cadence of a certain bird that greets each day perched on a bush somewhere outside my bedroom window at dawn. The amazing thing to me is that, daily, my barely-awake mind, without giving it any conscious thought at all, fits a different set of words each morning into the same repetitive call from the unseen bird. This morning it was “I knew it!”
Although I hear the same cadence over and over, my mind daily puts different words to the rhythm: “You can do it!” “Going through it!” “You blew it!” “Never do it!” “Intuit!” “Into it!”
So, over my morning cup of tea, I now ponder how we humans so easily apply, usually without much thought, our own template or our own interpretations to a given circumstance. And I think about how we are all mostly unaware of or in denial of other possible ways of perceiving things.
The bird is sounding off for its own purposes. How I “download” this event varies from day to day.
I’m reading a book this week that fits itself now into my meditation on the variety of ways of hearing “Inuit” or “Just do it!” or something else.
The book, a first novel, She Weeps Each Time You’re Born, by poet Quan Barry, presents so many different “takes” on the experiences of people in Viet Nam that I am again brought to stillness by seeing how history has many faces, and many of them are never seen. As this book shows, there are stories “the world is eager to bring into light,” and stories “it doesn’t want told.” And lots of other stories, too.
The book’s chief character has the otherworldly ability to hear the voices of the dead. Throughout the novel, as she “lets the history wash over her,” voices from many lands and many ways of life reveal their stories. As readers, we get to experience with her these voices from the past, each one unique and luminous in their need to be heard. In the novel, once they are “heard,” the dead are freed to move on; nothing else is required.
Now obviously this is a rather dark and painful read, almost at times unbearably so. But I am so aware right now, given that most Americans are finally realizing that there are many sides to the daily news, to anyone’s version of history, to what has been kept from us, to what we keep from ourselves, that taking the time to read this book has been for me a sort of practice in opening my mind and heart bigger and wider with each page.
There is much in history, in our country’s history, in my own history, so much that has left “ghosts” walking, needing to be heard, needing to be acknowledged, if peace is to be possible at last. Difficult as it is to “face the shadows,” it is redemptive. And so I honor this truth by reading this book to the final poetic page.
Today, I hope to remember the often-repeated simple and powerful words of the main character in the book, ringing in my own voice, coming from my own heart: “I hear you.” “I hear you.”
And I remind myself, thanks to my daily morning bird call, that how I interpret anything I hear, from one day to the next, may vary and is never the whole story, never the ultimate reality.
Humbling. A good thing.
I go out now to greet the day in my own fashion, addressing, as usual, “All My Relations, All That Is, Nothing Ultimately Separate From Me, Blessings! I Listen!”
NPR interview with Quan Barry: NPR interview with Quan Barry