When I was a kid on the farm, my parents entertained a steady stream of friends and relatives. Visits were rarely planned — they simply happened, and were a source of joy. In that hospitable setting, a story was never just a story; its meaning arrived through the way it was told, through voice, gesture, and mood, in a pipe refilled, a burning cigarette the teller forgot he held, the phrasing of breath to the sound of spoons in cups — none of these could be separated from the images themselves.
Quite naturally, I fell into and relished a listening role, and that role continues to this day. They say that writers are great eavesdroppers, and I suppose that is so, but obviously one doesn’t have to write in order to eavesdrop, and eavesdropping itself hardly makes a good writer. One can eavesdrop maliciously, for gain, which isn’t listening at all. But attentive listening nourishes; it keeps us alive, in others and in ourselves.
Listening is a sacred act in which the concept of time, which is largely and desperately misunderstood, assumes its best perspective. When we listen, we never ask where the time goes, or if it exists, or if it need be at all. It is we who are going — ever onward, passing through.