One autumn afternoon my twin sister and I were ripping up the soil in my grandmother’s fallow garden. We were only five-years-old, and my sister, in her clod-crushing zeal, miscalculated the distance at which I was standing from her. I was summarily whacked on top of the head with a garden hoe.
Two distinct memories fill my mind about that moment: First, the warm, oozing of blood running into my left ear; and second, the sight of my Medicare-receiving, apron-wearing grandmother running, yes, running, from the house to scoop me into her arms.
There were no ambulances in my hometown. There was no real emergency room. There was no 911 service. Even if these things had been readily available, it wouldn’t have mattered. My grandmother didn’t own a phone or drive a car.
My aunt, who lived next door, called my parents at work. They arrived in record time and whisked me away to the office of Dr. Jerry Barron, one of only three doctors in town. Dr. Barron, sadly, was a community acknowledged quack, but on this afternoon he was the only option. See, Dr. Thompson did not work on Wednesdays, and nobody really visited Doc Hill anymore, not unless it was a matter of life and death.
Young mothers had lost all confidence in Doc Hill after he allegedly reported to his clinic early one morning to deliver a new born baby boy, drunk as the proverbial skunk. The delivery was without complication, but the subsequent circumcision was a disaster.
So it was with great trepidation that I was passed with a gushing head wound into the hands of Dr. Barron, the silver-haired idiot. I was dragged to an examination room where Dr. Barron separated me from my parents, asking them to remain in his clinic lobby. He, his two nurses, and an office receptionist held me down to place a dozen stitches in my scalp.
I twisted and turned, convulsed and screamed, begging someone – anyone – to explain what was happening. They continued their work, never saying a word to me. Finally, I screamed at the top of my lungs, “Will someone please talk to me!”
Apparently that was the magic phrase. Dr. Barron and his team of tormentors actually stopped what they were doing. He looked me in the eyes, finally explained what they were trying to do, how long it would take, and how much it would or would not hurt. I then lay perfectly still, the doctor only moving my head occasionally, until the procedure was complete. I only needed someone to listen to me.
Listening is largely a lost art. Medical professionals run us through their offices like cattle through a chute. Politicians stubbornly ignore our voices. Our children discount our counsel. Our spouses cannot recall the conversation we had just this morning. Trusted friends won’t lift a gaze from their glowing capacitive screens to look us in the eyes.
As I get older I understand more and more why Jesus often said, “He who has ears let him hear,” before uttering some mind-blowing instruction. Because for the most part, we do not use those two fleshy instruments attached to the sides of our heads.
At no time in human history has there been more opportunity or more tools to communicate; we’ve come a long way from beating drums and smoke signals. Still, most of our advances have been on the speaking side, rather than the listening side.
I wonder what would happen in our homes, office cubicles, classrooms, doctor’s offices, church sanctuaries, and houses of legislation if we who have ears took the time to actually use them. We just might begin to appreciate, rather than vilify, those on the other side of the aisle. We just might find that the world would grow a little quieter, a bit more peaceful.
We just might find that those we have long ignored actually have something worth saying. We just might discover the greatest advancement in the history of human communication – the ability to not say a single word.