Our little old house perches hillside within the arms of a shallow valley. Old fir trees tower above and behind us, and below is the creek and the rounded shoulders of the road. Everyday sound plays hide and seek here. A truck lumbering along the road seems at once to be both coming and going; the ducks each morning in their house up on the pasture seem to be murmuring down on the lawn. When we first moved here, we’d often wake startled and sit straight up in bed, hearts pounding at the devil’s chorus of coyote glee that sounded just outside our bedroom windows. It was disconcerting to realize that sound could be distorted, shifted, slung about like water in a bin.
It took a long time to learn the tricks of rebounding sound waves on our property, to learn to imagine the way a distant dog’s bark or a crow’s call could shoot down the funnel of the valley and reach our ears with surprising intensity. But it’s not just origination that gets distorted out here; sound itself, especially the human voice, can change. Several times I’ve stopped midstride, heard a loud voice calling, “Help!” and imagined the neighbor lying broken beneath a tractor or bloodied from a chainsaw wound. I've grabbed my shoes to go look, only to realize it is not "help" he's shouting, but his dog's name: “Riiiiingooooo! Riiiiingooo! Come home, Ringo!”
How does that happen? Do sound waves twist and fray when they bounce against trees? Do the fir needles shred them as they pass, take the roundness from the vowels, blunt the ends? I heard it again this week and paled - “Heellllp! Heeellllp!” - and wondered, when my heart stopped pounding, what would happen if he ever really needed us? Would we recognize the call?
I don’t like to think about the ways my senses deceive me, about how quickly my brain leaps to make assumptions. It complicates the world when all I really want is straightforward understanding. And it raises uncomfortable questions: Is nothing as it seems? If ears can be tricked, what about my heart? What happens to the words I speak out into the world? If I send out faithfulness, does it tear as it passes through deceit, or betrayal, or time? Does it arrive tattered and reeking of codependency? Does generosity crack and shatter when it meets the coldness of want? Does what kindness I can manage grow shrill and selfish as it crawls belly-first through the underbrush? What neighbor is calling out heeelllp…and arriving at my ears as something else entirely?
The scripture says, “They have eyes, but they do not see; ears, but they do not hear,” and I wrestle with the mystery of this.
When You made us, did You mean for us to always be uncertain? Or is this Your way of driving us to ask, to seek, to wonder and attend?
(Was there really no other way?)
Sometimes an answer to the questions comes to me, but I can't help but doubt, remembering the way the sound bends, how it changes shape as it passes through the canopy of the trees...
What more can I do but lean in a little closer,
close my eyes, listen more intently,
Amber's book has arrived and I have a copy to share. I'm always so thankful for those who are willing to share their stories, and Amber does so bravely and beautifully. Leave a comment (and your contact info) and I'll put your name in the hat. I'll draw a name at random on Sunday.