For those of us not afflicted with hearing impairments, we often take sound, in all its variations, sources and tones, for granted. We seldom give sound any deliberative thought whatsoever, let alone intentionally meditating on what sound is and what it does to us and how it informs almost everything we do. Recently, as part of a daily reflection program I am involved in, we were encouraged to reflect on the sounds of life that nourish us as individuals. Not surprisingly the exercise has lingered with me beyond my initial response. It has had me thinking and feeling my way through what I call the sounds of life that nourish and gladden the soul.
A Symphony of Sounds
Last weekend, while staffing a weekend retreat for Quaker children, with 35 children and a dozen-plus adults all swirling about, provided a symphony and roar of sounds of every description. There was the excitement and sheer racket of arrivals and greetings. Noise, if not understood for the good message behind it, might rattle the uninitiated and send people searching for ear plugs! But sound, especially the sound of exuberance and joy bursting forth, can also be touched and held if we discover how to stay out-of-the-way and just take it in within to a deeper place.
Within hours after dinner and games the clamor gave way to the rhythm of night. While talking and walking slowly with children on their way to their cabin I stopped and invited some stillness. Beyond a nearby hill a full moon was rising over the meadows and woods that slowly began to light our path ahead. “Did you hear that,” I asked? “There it is again!”
“I heard it,” said one, then another. “It’s an owl! Who-who-who,” laughed a child.
“It’s a Great Horned Owl communicating with another owl off in the distance,” I added. And there we stood, so silent we could hear our own breathing, there, beneath the rising moon and waiting for that unmistakable sound and far off echo-like return. It was sound and a moment also, an experience that children received and took within, untaught.
The following morning during a period of unstructured free-time, children frequently scramble up what they have named the “Climbing Tree.” It’s a relatively young maple with an amazing array of limbs and branches so close together that even the youngest children can reach the next branch up to climb. A staffer is assigned to keep things safe and when I’m there I like to sit nearby and just listen. The tree, hosting sometimes as many as nine or ten children, becomes a village of chattering young bodies stretched prone on branches, or climbing upward, all talking and covering the day’s events.
A hundred feet away sits another tree and it too at this moment is full of life, feathered life, a throng of springtime sparrows chirping madly and hopping all about. It occurs to me as I sit between these assemblies that they are much the same, actually. That is, until a distant noise spooked the flock and off they flew in mass.
Meanwhile, the Climbing Tree dwellers were just getting started. There was much to discuss including, “How high have you climbed?” and “Hey Kevin, look at me… I could sleep on this branch!” But it was the quieter, every-day chatter between children as they moved effortlessly about, talking soccer, favorite pizza, I think Jacob likes you, tonight’s desert and I wish we could stay up here all day back-and-forth bantering that kept me captivated. Soon, the old farm bell atop the main building rang out beckoning us to circle up for lunch. Within seconds, bodies slid to the ground and shouts of “wait for me” and “I’m gonna beat you there,” were heard, as screen doors squeaked, flung wide, slammed closed and opened again with every third child. This, the sounds of life soaking up a day should not be overlooked.
That evening down in the meadow around a crackling campfire, laughter filled the circle yet again. Stories, almost true, were told beneath a moonlit sky and in between the giggles and one child with unrelenting hiccups, the woodland sounds beyond the ridge were signaling that day was nearly done.
And done it was. Now, back in my assigned cabin, I sat listening for the certainty of sleep among the seven children in my care. A full-tilt-day of play and learning in community, these seven little wonders surrendered to sleep with a thud, giving way to rhythmic sighs, moans, random sleep-talking and an occasional fart for good measure. They were spent and satisfied to let the day lay claim and charge up for the morning soon to come and the journey homeward.
Sound travels. A hundred and fifty miles and one day later near home found me sitting in a boat at dawn and thinking about all the sounds of life that I had the privilege of hearing and feeling over the weekend. How radically different too the sounds I’m hearing now are compared to the last seventy-two hours! Here, having just finished prepping our team’s six-man whaleboat for our morning row, I sit and just listen for the gentle sounds of pre-dawn waves lapping at the hull, and the squeaks of lines, still tied to cleats, chafing, waiting for release, and the far-off rhythmic warning moans of the fog horn out in the bay.
Soon, I hear voices, faintly carried by the wind. I’m aware too how comforting it is, here and elsewhere, whenever we receive the gift of familiar voices. Now, the sounds of teammates walking, chatting as they approach becomes more audible as they make their way closer along the long pier leading to our boat. Familiar “Good-mornings,” ring out across the new-day calm. A teammate asked, “Kevin, so what are you doing sitting here, so still, feet on the gunwale, waiting and just listening?” I just smiled, knowing too, that he didn’t expect an answer.
And then we rowed and gathered up more memories of sound.
The power of sound and its affect on our moods and health, By Theresa Thung in Healthy Place.com
Text and Images by Kevin Lee