Listening Skills

Listen,” I said to my husband in a loud “stage whisper.”

And, he obeyed.

We stood in the doorway of our bedroom, hearing the sound of water pouring down the pipes in the wall as our son shaved upstairs. He shook his head and shrugged.

“It’s just the water in the exit plumbing,” he said.

No! Our house doesn’t make that sound. I’ve never heard it do that. Listen!” I told him.

There was a gurgling in the pipes.

He was skeptical, but said, “Well maybe it is a little different sound than we normally hear.”

We should have a plumber come and look at it,” I mumbled. He agreed. My husband knows our house, you see. Something big has to break every couple of months. It’s our karma.

My husband also knows me, and he knows that I know how to listen. Now my hearing isn’t keen (because of an acute ear infection when I was a child), but I can hear much better than many people my age. Unlike others of my generation, I didn’t blast out my eardrums with rock music when I was a teenager. My mother would argue that point if she were here, but she isn’t and I’m the one telling this story.

I’m not talking about “hearing,” really. I’m talking about “listening.” Those are two different things.

I spend much of my day listening to the sounds of my world. Unlike my husband and my stepsons, I do not need the “white noise” of a fan to put me to sleep. I prefer to hear the sounds of the night. Unlike them, I do not need to have the television and/or music blaring in the background while I putter around the house. I spend the day in relative silence, with only the sounds of the world around me, the “talking” of five cats, and the noises that my house makes. I know the sounds my house makes. This was not one of them!

The plumber came just before noon, and listened to the sounds our plumbing made. “It’s just the water in the exit plumbing,” he said. “It sounds as if it’s flowing well.”

No, it’s not,” I replied. “We’ve never heard that sound before.”

He said, “Lady, I hate to start tearing into the walls for no reason. There is no water anywhere. I couldn’t tell you what you are hearing.”

What I hear you say,” I said, “is that I have to wait until ‘exit’ water is gushing down my walls before you can repair it?

He sighed with exasperation. To humor me (though I’m only a woman), he listened again. We turned on the sink faucets upstairs, came back down and he listened. First there was the gurgling, then the sound stopped.

“You see,” he smirked. “Nothing’s wrong.”

We went back upstairs to turn off the faucets. “Whoa!” he said, as he looked at the sink, which was almost overflowing with water. “Looks like you do have a problem. There is some kind of blockage in the line.”

I tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen,” I replied.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Someone once asked me what I thought was a ridiculous question,

“If you had to choose between your hearing and your sight, which would you choose?”

Well, I don’t want to make that choice, but if it came down to it, I’d have to keep the hearing. I’ve always been an audile person, you would expect that of a storyteller, wouldn’t you? At this moment, I can without hesitation conjure the sound in my mind of my Daddy’s voice, my Momma singing, my best friend’s braying laugh, though they are all long gone from this earth. If I try to see their faces in my mind, it’s just a faded blur unless I have a photograph to remind me of their features.

Think about this question, though:
How good are your own listening skills? How often do you find yourself in “conversation” with your child, your spouse, or your friends “listening” to them talk, but not hearing a word they say? While you put on a facial expression of attentiveness, your mind is racing as you think about a problem at work, what you are going to cook for supper, or what you are going to say.

Maybe for today, just stop and listen. Sit quietly and count the sounds you hear. See if you can hear your own heart beating. When your loved ones talk, become consciously engaged in listening to their words. As you go about the day, don’t have the background noise of Oprah, or Days of Our Lives or The Weather Channel in the background. Just listen to the world around you. Hear the sounds your house makes. Don’t just “hear.” “Listen.”

If I hadn’t listened to the sounds of my house, we would have ignored that gurgling in the walls. It turned out to be much more serious than a “blockage.” A few months down the road my wall would have exploded with “exit water,” and I don’t have to tell you how crappy that would have been. Y’all go listen to your heartbeat.

I’m going to listen to the jackhammers drilling through my foundation.

  14 comments for “Listening Skills

  1. Marcia
    January 11, 2008 at 7:15 am

    A story with a lesson, storyteller… good one, too. I used to have TV in the background, foreground, all around, but started turning it off before we moved. I don’t always turn on music, though I love that. It is amazing what we hear when we listen..

    Sometimes I hear my appliances in the quiet and they seem to have a pattern of words, like Jack plays, or bye, bye… or something equally ridiculous and once I hear it I can’t not hear it.

    What are your jackhammers saying?

    And, yes, with my mind going a trillion miles an hour with thought, I have to really put the brakes on when someone else is talking, don’t always succeed, but at least at times I am conscious of it.

  2. January 11, 2008 at 7:35 am

    A few years ago..I lost all hearing in my right ear due to an ear infection….but my left ear makes up for it.
    I can’t hear Hubby snoring next to me…but let the grandkids down the hall whimper…and I’m up like a shot from a cannon. Selective hearing I guess. There is nothing as great as the sound of silence.
    If people only knew that a great conversationalist is one who has perfected their listening skills.

  3. January 11, 2008 at 9:42 am

    Freaky time again. Had to have one ear drum cut at ten to …. well you know how much that hurt.

    Then there is the small matter that if tragedy is to strike, I can always learn Braille, like dogs and really really need music.

    You of course listen and write brilliantly and are a joy to read.

  4. January 11, 2008 at 11:57 am

    What a beautiful post. You are so right that we get so caught up in our own “internal” noise, that we don’t always listen to the world around us. I live alone, so always tend to have some form of background noise on, but once in a while I do shut it all off and let the sounds of the building entertain me.

  5. January 11, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    Oh I enjoyed that story. Although I’ll admit that I’m probably a little bit like the plumber sometimes where I want to understand exactly why something doesn’t seem right before I do something about it. It’s not that I don’t want to do anything, but I have this incessant need to understand things completely. Still, much credit is due to you for sticking up for what you believe!

  6. January 11, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    Beautiful story!! (well, not the pipe blockage part, but the moral, you know!)

    I really believe that when people talk I listen to what they are saying. I really try to anyway. At home, though, I am guilty of loving background noise. I love the sound of the TV, even if I’m not watching it. The hubby is just like you. He likes the peace and quiet and only the sounds of the night. Well, as long as it isn’t teenagers slamming doors 🙂


  7. January 11, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Hehe, I do listen. But I live in an apartment – so my noises are the neighbors turning on their bathroom fan, openning their back door or my roomate running her heater. Any sound other those those 3 makes me get up to investigate!

    Happy Friday!! 🙂

  8. January 11, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    I am a terrible listener. My mind always wanders here and there. I’m terrible. I can listen though. I too notice when things are different. Very well done.

    Sorry I haven’t been around. My DSL went out with the storm last Friday. Just came back up last night. Thank goodness.

    Have a great day and weekend. 🙂

  9. January 12, 2008 at 10:54 am

    Really really good post! I confess, I am a white noise person. Mostly old time radio in the background. I am sure it affects my “listening”. Now that I am aware of it I will have to make an effort towards silence…Thanks (i think)LOL. Have a good weekend!

  10. junemoon
    January 12, 2008 at 11:33 am

    What a lovely and meaning-filled post. I, too, am like you that I do not require or want the background noise of a television or even music when I am puttering about or just being. I love music but when I have it on, it’s because I am listening to it.

    I really appreciated your examination of listening and hearing. Thank you. junemoon

  11. January 12, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    I NEED to know what happened with the Apple people?? Did you finally get good service?

  12. January 12, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    Great post. It’s staggering what I see and learn when I take time away from it to simply “listen.” If you’re a believer, you might call it lstening to God. That’s how I see it. But there is something even apart from that of benefit. Stopping to absorb solutions for life’s problems is crucial and we seem to do it less and less on our culture.

  13. January 13, 2008 at 2:50 am

    drives my husband absolutely NUTS but I am the very same way with “weird” house noises. I KNOW the house noises….and the cottage noises. By Heart. I am the one home all the time. Not him. So they should listen to US.

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