“It’s hard to listen without bats,” he wrote.
In actuality, the statement written by current-day philosopher-poet Criss Jami said: “It’s hard to listen without bias.” But that’s when my dyslexia kicked in, or my leftover bits of cataracts, or whatever it is that often makes me see words differently than they were written. And so, what I read was, “It’s hard to listen without bats.”
Interestingly, I thought that it was a rather profound statement … certainly one worthy of contemplation.
The bats were brown furry metaphors, of course. But for what? Outside distractions? Random intrusions? Or perhaps they represented our own personal perceptions or fears or past experiences or imagined dangers – all those things that can come flitting out unexpectedly from our private places of darkness. In the end, I decided, they both meant rather the same thing: Bats or biases, it is hard to really listen without them influencing what we hear.
The truth of this statement was brought home to me recently by my own personal philosopher-in-residence, my blind dog Indy. Now completely without sight, Indy still loves a good morning walk. Even though it is now confined to our immediate neighborhood, even though it means he must wear a harness and be tethered to me by a leash, even when he must respond to my verbal warnings about steps and fences and other dangers in his path, the morning walk is a special time for Indy – a time for “freedom of being.”
His sense of hearing and touch and smell are especially acute now. He listens in particular with great intention to every call of a bird or skitter of moles, the rustling of leaves across the ground and dogs greeting us from half a block away. He readily recognizes the voices of friends who stop to chat and share a treat. He turns toward the familiar sound of horses’ hooves pulling carriages with clomping rhythm on quiet side roads.
On one cool morning walk, the voice of a cat meowing repeatedly drew his attention sharply toward it. Indy loves cats; he is particularly responsive to their gentleness, their shy friendship, the warmth of their fur, and the soft throbbing of their purrs. And, always the peacemaker, he is quick to rush into any cat confrontations to steady and calm the participants. But he is decidedly uncomfortable whenever he believes one of them is in danger or distress. Such was the case that morning.
I, too, listened to the repeated calling of the cat, but didn’t hear the distress within it. I thought that I knew the voices of cats, and that this one was not in pain or fear. I could tell that the sound was coming from the higher branches of a tree, but my past experience told me that cats do climb up quite high at times – treetops and rooftops and poles. Indy, however, could not be dissuaded. Sightlessly, he tilted and twisted his head, trying to pinpoint the source of the call. Relentlessly, he pulled at me to follow him, to help him find the cat that needed us. But it was late. And I had important things to do.
It wasn’t until several hours had passed that I saw the Public Safety crew near the tree – with tall ladders and kind hearts – retrieving the cat, returning it to safety.
I apologized to Indy.
I suspect we all listen to calling voices at times without hearing the need and fear and frustration they may be trying to tell us. Or if we do hear, we put it aside with the preconceptions of past experience or in preference of other thoughts and things to do. We don’t follow the pull that is right in our own hands or within our own hearts. We leave it to someone with taller ladders.
But Indy heard. Blind Indy heard. And he tried his best to respond. He listened without bias, and he heard. He listened without bats. And that makes all the difference.