Recently I have been remembering that January can be hard. For a month that supposed is about beginnings, it feels awfully in between.
For the past several New Year’s Eves I have stayed in with my family, (by past several, of course, I mean every single one of my life,) but this year I went to the Avett Brothers’ concert in Raleigh. We sat way up in the nosebleeds in the PNC arena, about level with the balloons hoisted up in nets, ready to be dropped at the stroke of 2015. Karen and I propped our feet up and watched. I was delighted to remember what it is to be an observer, someone with the luxury of seeing and hearing and thinking to oneself. I rediscovered the occasional joy I find in listening.
Sometimes I am a good listener and sometimes I am not. Sometimes I am listened to and sometimes I am not. Listening, of course is more than just waiting politely while somebody talks, trying to digest what they say so that the next thing out of your mouth sounds relevant. Truly good listening involves care not just for our own words, but for the speaker’s: what did they mean by what they said, and what did they mean us to hear? Is there truth in this, or if there are lies, where are they coming from, and why?
I decided the other day that there are times in our lives (say through our twenties or so) when we should not be allowed to speak quite as much: we girls especially. When a friend is glad or sad we have such a tendency to try to paste over our obligations of affection to them by saying that we love them or that we’re so very, very happy, and then doing nothing more. When we do not know how to care for people, we claim that our care is floating around in the feelings in the air, and then we move along. We try to convince them of our love instead of actually loving.
Listening can teach us out of that, I think. If we listen well and constantly, we might learn so much: pain, patience, loyalty, sorrow, joy, the mutability of the human heart, and its simultaneous mysterious eternity. At long last, listening might teach how to manifest that love we only feel or the love we outright lack. I suspect that, at times, listening is the manifestation of love.
So the beginning of the new year for me was an exercise in attentiveness and remembering how to do it. I came to a new place in my old boots with old friends, and at midnight the balloons and confetti rained down on those below and for the rest of the concert I could hear latex popping in the quiet between songs. The little pear-shaped old man on the next row down bobbed his head to the music, as he had all night, and I only sang along when I knew the words. My best friend informed me that “auld lang syne” meant “times long past,” and I decided I’d rather not forget them.