(I’m writing this on my iPhone from the porch of my hotel room in Laguna, so apologies for nothing other than formatting.)
When I can, I like to wear earbuds and listen to music or podcasts from my phone. It can be a calming exercise for my brain, which I find often rattling at too high a speed without a proper oil change every 5,000 miles. I’ll pop them in when I do chores around the house, while laying in bed late at night, or while going for a hike. I’ll wear them most anywhere that I am assured that I will not have human interaction, but that’s about it. I’ve tried wearing them buying groceries, or while waiting in line for one thing or another, but I can never do it, I’ll rewrap the cord, and stuff the buds back into my pocket.
For the longest time, I told myself it was because I didn’t want to seem pretentious, or that I didn’t want to give off a nonverbal communication that I was disinterested in everyone but myself. After all, what kind of pastor would I be if I made myself unavailable to the general public?
(Yes, like most of them. Not the point, however).
None of these reasons seemed to really hit the mark as to why I felt so awkward and awful doing something so innocuous and simple. For such a silly thing to be a hang up in public, there had to be a reason that was a step beyond a fear of alienating strangers.
Recently, I recalled a story from my childhood during a morning walk. It was a trivial moment that returned to my memory, and yet it’s a story that bears retelling in light of the previously typed words.
I must have been eleven or twelve years old at the time. I lived with my father and my younger brother at the time. We were the most latchkey kids of the latchkey kids generation. We would leave for school before our father woke up, and we would most often return to an empty house afterwards.
One day after school I arrived at home to find once again, I was the only one there. This was normal, and I could anticipate my brother arriving home within the following hour. Like clockwork, he did arrive. But his entry into the house was brisk, full of heavy breathing and a slight whimper (he was seven or eight). I greeted him by asking what was wrong. I saw his His face was red and his eyes were damp from crying. He ignored my question, as a younger brother does, and he went to his room.
Before I could chase him down to ask what was the matter, there was a knock on the front door. Because we didn’t have a peep hole in the door, I cautiously opened the door (stranger danger, right?). There stood a short person, obviously much older than me, but shorter than my already lanky stature. The knocking individual sported short, dirty blonde hair trimmed above ears, a round face and torso, wearing the most bland grey sweatshirt and pants. To this day, I would argue it was the most average, lose-able in a crowd person I have ever seen.
Frustrated, my front door guest began to berate me and ask where my parents were. Being a good D.A.R.E. graduate, I informed my visitor that they were unavailable at the moment (a.k.a at the local watering hole, getting watered). Not sure where this conversation was heading, I stood silently, looking intently at this person, as I was told of the dastardly deed that my younger brother had maliciously perpetrated (I think it was something about throwing a frisbee or kicking a ball on the top of a ramada at a local park, but I don’t remember).
I listened, and listened well. I heard the lament of the offended, and I empathized as well as any twelve year old can. At the end of the tale of woe, I was instructed by the betrayed to, “Make sure to ell your Mother or Father what I said!”. It was a comment full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Thus I replied, “Yes sir”.
And thats when the shit hit the fan.
“What did you just say?!” was shouted in my face.
“Yes sir?” I replied with absolutely no confidence in what was happening.
“I am a ma’am.” is what she said. But already shook, what I was heard was, “I am a man.”
“Yes sir, I know”, I fumbled, my little brain struggling to find a solution to this riddle I was thrown into.
“I. AM. A. MA’AM. A WOMAN.”
I could see the hurt, the anger, the frustration, and the sadness on her face. I was completely lost. I was incapable of a response that would satisfy her hurt, and I was undone myself, having lost the ability to think any further than the next breath I should probably take.
I forged some sort of apology, obviously falling on deaf ears. I slowly closed the door. I still remember seeing the hate in her eyes, hate I probably well deserved in that moment. Once we were separated by the front door, I turned the lock, went into my room, and cried.
I can hear well, I’ve passed every hearing test I’ve ever taken (the only test with such a record in my life). This moment was a non-sequitur, a one off that should easily be shaken off. But for some reason, I have carried with me a continuing fear of not being able to interpret what other people are saying. Im afraid of phone calls (all of them). If you and I are on the phone, know I will be afraid will not understand what you are saying, though more likely than not, I will be just fine.
In conversations that are face to face, I still carry a paranoia that I will mishear and respond in a inappropriate way. It’s a weird, but sometimes debilitating weakness. I hate it.
I hate it.
So, I work hard to hear, to be present in case of an emergency. It’s not an ego thing as much as it is a fear thing.
I work in fear.
Neat. That’s reassuring.