It is amazing how the briefest of moments can determine the direction of our life. This can be true for good or for ill. Sometimes these brief moments are barely recognised as moments, yet their effect can last a life time. A child plays the piano. A parent listens. The child makes a mistake. The parent sighs. Between the notes, the child hears their parent’s sigh and out of the corner of their eye, the child notices their parent lower their head ever so slightly. This is interpreted by the child as disappointment and disapproval and perhaps embarrassment to listen any further. Afterwards, there is no discussion between the child and parent. No clarification. This is communication without conversation. Feelings are felt but not mentioned. All in all the sigh and the slight lowering of head took no more than a second, yet from that moment on, the child now middle aged, decided never to play the piano again. Just as big doors swing on little hinges, so our lives swing on the briefest of moments.
How terribly sad to be silenced by a sigh. How terribly disturbing that it is possible we may mute the music of another by the slight lowering of our head.
Sometimes our relationships with others are determined by moments that are missed moments. The moment that seems to have a sell-by-date embedded within it. The moment within a moment that somehow we feel has now passed, making whatever we had committed to do in the moment, no longer right or true or even possible. That what would have been appropriate is no longer so. And this scarcely conscious sense may end up determining a relationship forever.
The following is an extract from Kazuo Ishiguro’s book entitled, The Unconsoled. Ishiguro has an amazing ability to turn up the volume on our own internal dialogues so that we can hear ourselves.
“With that she had turned and disappeared out of the room. It had occurred to me to follow her through into the next room, visitors or no visitors, and bring her back for a talk. But in the end I had decided in favour of waiting where I was for her return. Sure enough, a few minutes later, Sophie had come back into the room, but something in her manner had prevented me from speaking and she had gone out again. In fact, although during the following half-hour Sophie had entered and left the room several more times, for all my resolve to make my feelings known to her, I had remained silent. Eventually, after a certain point, I had realised any chance to broach the topic without looking ridiculous had passed, and I had returned to my newspaper with a strong sense of hurt and frustration.”
One of the gifts of an author, in fact, one of the gifts of all artists, is that they help us to hear what we are deaf to and see what we are blind to. They bring to attention what we miss. Art is birthed in attentiveness. Artists gift us with the fruit of their attentiveness. Often they introduce us to ourselves as they help us to recognise ourselves and to know ourselves more truthfully. In this, artists help us to become more alive to life.
We would all become more alive to life were we to be more attentive to our living. Attentiveness however, requires stillness. And we live in an age of distraction that makes stillness an immense challenge. For this reason many have found the Examen Prayer that involves the daily practice of pause to be healing and helpful. The examen prayer invites us to pause and attentively examine or review our day. Without condemnation and without complacency, we are encouraged to compassionately reflect on our living. By grace we are invited to gently discern how we chose life or death in each moment and perhaps even the moments within each moment. The hope is that over time our lives may be less easily silenced and less prone to silence others.