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conversation | davelovell.net
Aug 252010

I’m sit­ting at my desk this morn­ing, lis­ten­ing.  I can hear ran­dom neigh­bors head­ing off to work, the occa­sional air­plane and the birds.  If I’m able to be still enough, some­times my brain will try and deci­pher what the birds are up to, which ones are respond­ing to each other, which ones are sound­ing a warn­ing; there must be some logic at play.

Try­ing to lis­ten to birds reminds me of the first few months that I lived in Europe as a young grad­u­ate stu­dent.  I didn’t speak the lan­guage, and I remem­ber lis­ten­ing to the peo­ple then the way I am lis­ten­ing to the birds this morn­ing.  It was both dis­con­cert­ing and peace­ful; what if peo­ple are talk­ing about some­thing I should know, some dan­ger, but it also allowed my mind the free­dom of not being dis­tracted by the words of others.

I know peo­ple that “hear” in these ways all the time.  Some peo­ple can’t seem to help but be engaged by other people’s con­ver­sa­tions.  I used to have lunch occa­sion­ally with a friend who always brought the con­ver­sa­tions of the other tables to ours.  “See that guy with the plaid shirt, he’s try­ing to con­vince his wife that he hasn’t been unfaith­ful…” He would spend the rest of our lunch sit­ting with me, but really lis­ten­ing to hear how things went over there.

Other peo­ple I know seem obliv­i­ous to the spo­ken words around them, they seem to have tun­nel hear­ing, plac­ing their com­plete atten­tion on the words of whomever they are with.  It’s nice, but can also be a lit­tle intimidating.

I think I’m some­where in between, I like to think that I am atten­tive to the peo­ple I speak with, but I am in no way immune to nearby juicy chit-chat.

I think these things are habits, largely unlearned and uncon­scious.  After my first four months of liv­ing in Bel­gium, a friend and I trav­eled to the UK to spend Christ­mas in Scot­land.   We trav­elled by train to Oos­t­ende, took the ferry across the Chan­nel and made our way to King’s Cross for the night train north.  The hus­tle of con­nec­tions had kept me dis­tracted, but once set­tled in for the long jour­ney to Edin­burgh I became oddly uncom­fort­able.  It took some time before I under­stood why, but I real­ized it was the lan­guage – I could under­stand the con­ver­sa­tions of every­one around me.  More dis­com­fort­ing,  …they could under­stand mine!

It was a shock to real­ize how muf­fled my ears had become, that I had become so accus­tomed to not know­ing what was being said around me.  I was even a bit fear­ful to speak with­out mea­sur­ing what I was about to say.  Some­where in my mind I knew that most of the peo­ple back in Flan­ders spoke Eng­lish, but my mind had become used to think­ing that when I spoke to my friends, those around didn’t really understand.

Are you con­scious of these things, or is this just another odd part of my char­ac­ter?  How­ever it is, I remain mind­ful of the vol­ume of my voice and the prox­im­ity of other ears.  No need to bur­den oth­ers with the detri­tus of my day, nor dis­tract them from the peo­ple they should be lis­ten­ing to.

Now I have to get back to the birds, I think they may be up to something…

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