Sunday, April 17, 2011

Listen: Radio Silence

Lightning in Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa
Perhaps if I lived on the great plains of the world, thunderstorms would cease to be a novelty.  I have to resist the urge to stand on a naked hilltop, arms outstretched, and answer the summons of the great roll of thunder, in rain so hard it hurts.  I count the seconds from the flash to the shuddering clap, closer and closer until they are nearly simultaneous and a splintering crack tolls the submission of some tall pine to the sky's fierce touch.  And then, with a slight disappointment, I count again as the seconds increase and the rain lightens to a steady, soaking shower.

On Wednesday I returned home from some errands to find that the storm had fried my modem and my routers, thus shutting down my internet and phone.  I called the phone company from the rotary phone at the old general store (which now serves as our friend Will's boat shop), and then, since my cell phone doesn't work down here either, settled in for a day without outside communication.  From Wednesday until Saturday we were mostly out of contact.  Having just blogged about my son's use of the internet, I then got to enjoy most of the week without it.

There are more than enough essays and opinion pieces on our relationship with information in the age of constant access; I doubt there is much I can add to the subject.  We had several beautiful days and spent most of them outdoors, Wallace exhausting himself in that exultant play that comes so easily to young children.  He missed his computer games but filled the time with different games, and I think he really enjoyed the change.  I, on the other hand, spent the first 24 hours faintly concerned that I might be missing something, wanting to check my email, looking for phone reception to listen for messages.

I always have a story to tell.  Ideas and information swirl around in my head and I get so excited that I forget my head isn't the only place in the world.  It all gets so loud that I forget to listen to anything else.  I am cloven in two trying to reconcile the intellectual adventures of my pre-child life with the physical adventures of the life I lead now.  The growth that occurs when I open myself to my weaknesses doesn't happen; I am "the busy man who is never wise".*

Lysander pulled me down to the water's edge and let the freezing waves wash over his legs.  In my arms his little body would heat up from the rush of cold and excitement.  Wallace drew huge faces in the sand and invented a detective game by making trails with sticks.  My children communicate so simply, and they forgive me for my failure to hear.  In not hearing, though, I lose.  Letting the world get small again reminds me how big it is, and how much more I need to listen.  Perhaps I can accept the summons of the lightning after all.

*There is a Chinese proverb that the Wise Man Is Never Busy, and the Busy Man Is Never Wise.

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