Saturday, June 27, 2015

Chirps in the Valley

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love … Book of Common Prayer

I woke up this morning just before dawn; I was awakened by the cheerful chirping of a local bird. Not being an ornithologist, I don’t know what it was, but it was making me an ornery-thologist. I really wasn’t in a mood to open my peepers at four o’clock in the a.m.

Why on earth would a bird be singing at that hour of the morning? Is she singing praises to Brother Sun for his rising, and Sister Moon for her bedding down? Is she screaming at the chicks to get a move on (to catch the proverbial worm), or warning the aforementioned worms to head for shelter? Or is it simply a matter of instinct and tradition – chirping away at the break of day because that’s what all her feathery ancestors have done from time immemorial?

The reasons probably don’t matter. What’s interesting, though, is that I heard the bird at all. I have discovered that my hearing is no longer all it was cracked up to be (good egg that I am), and was never all that good to begin with. I depend on people speaking to me clearly, with good enunciation, pronunciation, pace and volume.

For those who’ve grown up in the Valley Girl era, enunciation has become a lost art (and I’m not just being a cranky old coot when I say that). People slur their words, drop syllables and consonants, and end sentences on an uptalk, so statements often sound like questions. They also tend to over-use the word “like” so that everything, like, becomes metaphorical if taken, like, literally.

I complain, but it isn’t because of the dialect. I think dialects are cool. The issue for me isn’t what they say or how they say it, but rather that I have trouble understanding what is being said. The problem is mine; the frustration is mine; the lack of skillful hearing is mine; the presbyotic ears are mine (and yes, presbyotic is a word – it means old ears, referring to the decline of hearing that occurs with advancing age).

The solution, of course, would be to run into the local hearing center, have my ears tested, and perhaps being fitted for hearing aids. To do that, however, would require several things. First would be a desire to hear something. Those “somethings” might include things like my spouse or the television. Well believe me; they’ve both got lots of unused volume left, so I am not sure that’s an issue.

Second would be a decision to spend money fixing my problem when it would be so much easier if the mumbling world would only learn to SPEAK UP!

I mean, if our computers and typewriters have Caps-Locks, why can’t we just ask people to use their vocal Caps-Locks when talking to one another? Oh sure, it might sound like we’re all mad and it could lead to disagreements and fights, but isn’t that better than being bored by a case of the incomprehensibles?

Maybe I should just admit I am getting older, but I’m not sure I am ready to take the leap into hearing aids, even if they might help me to hear and understand the world around me better – just as eyeglasses keep me from walking into poles, driving into tourists (I would never think of running over most of the locals), or mistaking inanimate object for people a la Mr. Magoo.

I will confess that not everything I fail to hear is caused by a hearing loss; sometimes it is caused by hearing too much. I occasionally suffer from an auditory overload. When I am writing, for instance, I need quiet. I cannot write with music playing or the television on in the background. I know there are folks who are the complete opposite – who need the background noise if they are going to concentrate, but I am not one of them.

For me, Silence truly IS golden; I treasure it with all my heart; a Miranda warning’s unnecessary, for I’ve turned silence into an art!

As long as the chirps of the birds continue to wake me up at the crack of the dawn, I think I’ve still got time to be cheap in this, our presbyotic valley. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Parking in the Valley

I don’t much like God when he gets under a roof. John Wayne

My wife and I were driving into Bozeman the other day to take care of some errands. I needed to stop at a shop downtown and was fretting over whether or not there would be parking close by. I don’t know why that would worry me so; I’ve lived in and around towns like Seattle, Detroit, and San Francisco and, believe me, parking anywhere in Bozeman is a snap.

Never-the-less, I fret over such simple matters for little or no reason. It isn’t rational; it’s just the way I am wired.

So it was very much to my delight and surprise that God answered my unasked prayer and provided a parking spot right in front of the business into which I was going to pop. I swung my little beater into the spacious slot – didn’t even have to do any parallel parking maneuvers – and was quite pleased with myself and with God (who had anticipated my need and desire with exquisite timing and precision).

As I was straightening the car out, however, my better half pointed out a car on the street had her backup lights on and, apparently, had intended to back into the spot I had just filled.

Without thinking (well, that’s not true; I did go through about a nanosecond of contemplation) I put on my signal and began to vacate the parking space.

At that exact moment I saw the car door fly open like the escape hatch to an F-1 fighter. The driver’s eyes were aflame and riveted on me like a mongoose on a cobra. We locked peepers long enough for the smooth second hand action of a Swiss watch to move half a hair’s breadth, at which point she looked down and saw something for which she was completely unprepared.

I swept my right hand in a grand arc, inviting her to take the space I was in the process of vacating. You see, I don’t steal spaces. It wasn’t a matter of first-come-first-serve, or you-snooze-you-lose; I had simply focused on grabbing a spot and when I realized I had unintentionally outmaneuvered a competitor, I chose the more gallant, noble course and let her have it (only noting later she was ready to let ME have it – and I don’t mean the space).

As she parked her car, I crossed the road (about fifty more feet in all) and grabbed a spot that was nearly as close and no less convenient in the larger scheme of things. Furthermore, it meant I could add some steps to my day, inching closer to my “ten thousand steps per day” goal. So it turned out to be a win-win for everyone.

I’m not sure why people get upset about things like parking places. I find it better, overall, to yield to the needs of others (real or imagined) and less so to the gratification of my own ego or desires.

It is nice to park close when one is in a hurry, I admit, but the difference between one spot and another is generally pretty miniscule.

As I thought about the incident, it occurred to me that I was being judged, not by my intentions, but by my actions. And isn’t that always the way? No one cares what a person’s intentions are; what matters is what we do. If we make a mistake, do we own it and apologize for it, or do we make excuses?

I would like to think my intentions are always pretty good, but I know my actions are sometimes less so. That can come from fatigue, inattention, or just plain stupidity.

Rather than compound the problem by denying one has done something wrong, it seems better to own up to it and make whatever amends are possible. In this case, it meant recognizing I had taken someone’s parking space, vacating it as quickly and as safely as possible, and signaling my apology as gracefully as I could.

I don’t know what she thought about it – if anything at all. I just know that as I crossed the street she and her friends went about their business without so much as a wave or a by-your-leave, and that’s OK.

The smallest kindness can work wonders in this, God’s valley, even if no one notices.