Sometimes when my house is noisy - the television is too loud or music I don't care for is blaring from a speaker located in the next room - I wish for quiet. Blissful silence to allow my thoughts to flow in an uninterrupted fashion so they can be captured, elaborated on, or simply left to their own devices.
But what if I had as much silence as I wanted? What if it were inescapable?
Yesterday at church, I watched in fascination as a sign language interpreter signed the Gospel reading. She was good - quick, expressive and lively in her presentation. I was captivated, as was the widow who sat in front of her. Millie (the widow) nodded and smiled, even mouthing some of the words she could not hear as the interpreter signed them.
I was enthralled. Though I'd seen the interpreter in action before, something about her captured my attention yesterday in a new way. Maybe I had a more direct view of her than usual, or perhaps the familiarity of the reading required less intense concentration, but for whatever reason, my experience was enhanced by the beauty of not just the interpreter's delivery, but of the interaction between the storyteller and her "listener." Millie was nodding and participating more fully than many of those around her who could hear the words for themselves.
And then it hit me. What if I could never hear these words again? What if every retelling of a Gospel story was literally in the hands of an interpreter? Oh, sure, I could read the words on the page, but to never listen to these stories again? How long would it take me to understand the language that flowed so freely from the interpreter's hands into Millie's heart?
As a parent, I know that the noise that drives me to distraction now will someday be gone, leaving a void that will doubtless make me long for the good old days. As a woman in the middle of her life - one whose train of thought has a tendency to get spooked, reverse direction and disappear from whence it came at the merest hint of unwelcome noise - I know I'm hypersensitive to distraction. I know I work best when the house is quiet, yet I've also learned to work in the ambient noise at my local Starbucks when I need to escape distractions of a different kind.
I'm not figuring all of this out for the first time - I try to appreciate the noise that comes with living in a houseful of people who love me. I know I'm fortunate to have such problems. Yet the reaction to unwelcome noise is visceral; my shoulders hunch, my muscles clench and I try to focus on what I'm doing, trying to cling to my thoughts long enough to get them onto the page.
If I couldn't hear, how much of what I write about would be gone? How many experiences would be altogether different?
When I count my blessings, I remember to be thankful for the ability to put words on the page in a coherent fashion, but there is so much that I take for granted. How often do I remember to be thankful for my senses, which inform my writing by their mere existence, and which shape my work by their very variety?
Rarely. But I am grateful that there are people like Millie and her interpreter who capture my attention with the beauty of their unique communication, reminding me how blessed I am, and how important it is to be careful what I wish for.