Our house is rather quiet. It seems to have started with my aversion to noise and a general preference for calm, since even before our daughter came along. Now on the cusp of her being seven years old, I sense that this is something that she favors most of the time too.
Still, feeling guilty that my affinity for quiet roars too loudly around here sometimes, I will occasionally ask, “Do you want me to put some music on or something?”
“No, that’s OK, Mama. I like it quiet,” she usually responds. I think she means it. She’s always played pretty quietly, and is easily startled by loud noises or overwhelmed (like me) by the endless ones. But more than that, I think she also wants all of the details. She doesn’t want to miss anything.
She likes being able to hear the conversations between my husband and me, peppering us with dozens of questions if she can’t hear us from another room. By leaving out the pointless cacophony, there is also room for her to be receptive to the soundless nuances around us, whether it be the shifting afternoon light on the walls or the patterns that present themselves in the wood floors. She points these things out with a regularity and enthusiasm that surprises me sometimes, at least given her age.
I do think it’s a gift, this tendency that she and I share, to see and hear things that others don’t seem to. Indeed, it’s what allowed me to notice on a recent summer morning that an unfamiliar bird had alighted across the street somewhere. It stood out merely because I didn’t recognize the song. I was completely engrossed in a book, and yet this strange birdsong stopped me in my tracks. I coursed through my admittedly limited mental catalog of birdsong, and couldn’t place it. The convenience of technology at my fingertips then led me down the distracted path of trying to determine what winged friend had stopped by, much less a reflection that with the changing season upon us also comes a changing of the guards so to speak, at least the feathered ones. I mulled the solstice that was now far back in summer’s wake when what I should have been doing was simply reading my book.
I fear sometimes that this inborn tendency to notice will lead her down the path that I seem to be on. This inability to turn off the desire for details, or searching for meaning and moral in the minutiae, even when there truly is none. Like the other day when I noticed that the woman who comes down our street every recycling day, pushing her overloaded shopping cart while looking for five cent treasures. She had a bum tire on her cart. To me, the audible anomaly was akin to an air raid siren. I was immediately thrust into those shopping experiences that we all have, the ones that start with a bad shopping cart with the wheel that sticks or wobbles incessantly. We discover the source of irritation—and fix it too—almost immediately. We have that luxury. But what about this woman who needs to work so hard just to find two nickels to rub together, and yet has to also deal with this crappy cart that serves as her work horse? Her life seems hard enough and she can’t even get a new cart at the front of the store. There was a deeper metaphor there in that rickety wheel, I’m sure, but all I could think about after hearing that clickety clack along the asphalt was that she seems to have gotten not one but two bad cards dealt in her hand. Why her? Why not me?
Or what about the single dahlia I noticed on the busy road running perpendicular to my side street? Every year this unknown gardener—anonymous to me at least—grows one dahlia, a different color every year, right at the edge of the sidewalk where the granite berm meets the pavement. With ambulances and cars racing by, it is quite a precarious spot to grow anything, much less something as large as a saucer on a four foot stem.
I saw it the other evening while on a walk, a deep garnet color this year. It reminded me that I took a photo of another one, white and deep pink, in that very spot a few years ago. It was glorious, and, considering the neighborhood, a gift as well. Which is why I was dismayed while driving to the grocery store the next afternoon. There it sat, that magnificent red flower head, right in the middle of the street, gleaming like a roadside flare. It was clear that this was not some accidental brush with a biker or stroller. No, given the location where it met its demise, and the perfection with which it still maintained its beauty, it was clear that this was a deliberate plucking and chucking by some ungrateful hoodlum. It bothered me on behalf of the gardener for the better part of an hour.
But what perhaps shook me more was that I noticed this floral fate in the first instance. How many other drivers had driven by that spot before me and wondered how this blossom met its demise in this way? How many even noticed it while it was still living the day before? Was the heart of the gardener heavy now? Does any of it even matter, in the grand scheme of things? Is my threading together of dahlias from year to year done for no apparent reason, or simply no reason at all?
My daughter, she has this affliction too. Like the ladybug that she somehow spotted from yards away while we were on a walk last week. We were consumed in some chatter when she was immediately distracted by this lovely thing meandering on the bark, well above her head.
It might be a curse, perhaps, to some, and certainly some days it seems that way to me, this inability to turn off the details that just lead me down the rabbit hole of endless inquiry and introspection. It can be exhausting to notice so much, especially when you’re not even trying. But I have to remember that, on balance, it really is a gift, and one that is predominately innate, it seems. I think that it ultimately comes from a place of deep empathy for the world around us and wanting to fully understand it all. How to temper it so one is not overwhelmed or takes on more than her fair share of the world’s burden, I’m still not sure. Maybe it’s not as necessary for me at my age, but as she starts to creep closer to the point where there will be increasingly more inputs into her world, I start to wonder how I can help her learn to filter out the noise just so that she can make it through the day. I hope that I am up to the task.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz