Right now, if I’m being honest, it is hearing my daughter’s laughter. Yesterday morning my daughter’s grandfather died from a very short and rapid fight with cancer. After school, we sat her down, and explained what happened. It’s never fun as a parent to tell your child something that you know will hurt her, and unfortunately that’s had to happen far too much for her in her short lifetime. When I hear her laugh, it reassures me that she isn’t forgetting how to be a kid. After several bouts of crying, I did hear her silly little laugh again, and it made my heavy heart happy.
Resting in bed with her last night she turned to me and she said,”Don’t you think it’s funny how people say memories of people are supposed to make you happy, but people aren’t always happy when the people are actually here?”
She’s right, and sometimes I think she has the world figured out better than I do.
This got me thinking about my own grandfather, and something that I wrote several months ago. While it might be a bit off topic, I think it applies well to how I’m feeling right now, and it hopefully pertains to the other people in my life that just might need a little extra care at this moment as well.
So here is the piece I wrote in June of last year as it relates to something I call “Listening by Ear.”
Came across this relic as I was attempting to organize some things this evening (see picture above).
This was my grandfather’s pitch pipe, and he gave it to me after I purchased my first guitar in college. I had stopped by my grandparent’s house on the way home from school one day to drop something off for my mom, and my grandfather told me he wanted to show me something. I remember being in a hurry, because I had just finished class and needed to rush off to one of my part-time jobs.
A little put out, I sat down on the couch and looked at the clock on the wall. My grandfather went down the hallway into a spare bedroom and emerged with a guitar in one hand and his pitch-pipe in the other. He sat down next to me on the couch, put everything down on the coffee table in front of us, and then proceeded to ask me if I knew how to tune my guitar. I responded by saying, “Yes, you turn the little knobs at the top.” He laughed, and then he clarified by asking me if I knew how to tune my guitar by ear.
Now at this point, I just wanted to tell him that it really didn’t matter that much, because I had just purchased this really cool digital tuner. He, however, grabbed a pen and piece of paper before I could utter a word, and started drawing out a little diagram. I recognized in an instant, that this needed to just be one of those moments where you let someone share regardless if you need the information they are sharing or not. The whole process of teaching me how to tune my guitar by ear took about twenty-five minutes and included multiple demonstrations and the singing of some archaic tuning ritual to the words “My dog has fleas.”
I listened with great care to every word he said, not because I had any intention of ever tuning my guitar using this exact method, but because it made my grandfather happy that I cared enough to just sit and listen. I’m pretty sure that he knew I wasn’t going to use the pitch-pipe for tuning, but it gave him pleasure none the less to share how he had always done this himself. I would have the memory of this act, even if I didn’t actually perform the act.
After about a half an hour, I really did need to get to work, so I got up to leave. Before I left, he handed me the diagram he drew for me and told me he wanted me to have his pitch-pipe. I knew it was the only one he had. We both knew I probably wasn’t going to use it, but I didn’t argue. I thankfully took his gift. For years it was tucked away in a pocket of my old guitar case, and then it made its way into a box of various bluegrass and folk song books I received after my grandfather passed away in May of 2007.
Coming across this item, and actually looking at his handwriting again, put me in a reflective state of mind this evening. My grandfather had a story for every person he ever met from the time he was about two until the day he died. His style of communication was very much like mine, and some people may have even considered him shy or anti-social at large gatherings. He was neither. He just chose to focus his attention on people individually in order to really hear their stories. He loved people, and he was always genuine. You always knew he was paying attention to what you were saying to him in a conversation.
One of the best things I learned from my grandfather was how “tune in” to people. Really listening to someone, like tuning your guitar to a pitch-pipe, is almost a lost art form. How sad would it be if we all forgot how to listen to people by ear?
Finding this tonight was a good reminder to keep my ears open and my connections with people in tune. Thank you for the lesson grandpa! I love you.
And to my 7 year-old daughter, Rozzie, thank you for recognizing that it’s important to remember and love people while they are here.
You are wise beyond your years, and everything about you is music to my ears.