April 27, 2010 by esarsea
One of my favorite lines from the movie Dumb and Dumber is when Lloyd, (Jim Carrey) tells Harry, (Jeff Daniels): “Harry yeah I called her up, she gave me a bunch of crap about me not listening to her, or something, I don’t know, I wasn’t really paying attention.”
Maybe Lloyd and I have something in common.
My wife Mary-Anne teaches 4th and 5th grade. She’s passionate about her work, and very good at it. After blogging about “Harmonica Man” Andy Mackie I was looking forward to sharing his story with her. When I got home after work I pulled this blog up on her laptop. I clicked on the Harmonica Man video, handed it to Mary-Anne and said, “Check this guy out, it’s a great story.”
As it began to play she looked at me as if I had just passed gas at the dinner table. “Stu…” she said in a half-questioning, half-confused tone, “…that’s the guy I told you about who came to our school. Don’t you remember me telling you about him? He brought everyone a harmonica? Remember?”
I was dumbfounded. What do I say? I sat there in what felt like suspended animation while my mind raced. It sounded kind of familiar, but not really. It was a surreal moment for me. I am rather forgetful at times, but this was somehow different. If I had simply forgotten that she told me about him, seeing the video would have reminded me. The harmonica thing sounded vaguely familiar, but that was it.
After having a few days to think about it, it seems to be a pretty clear case of just not listening. I was probably sitting on the couch, playing online poker while watching TV…it’s a favorite, “Brain Dead” decompression activity I like to escape into after work. I probably just grunted and nodded my head as Mary-Anne shared her day with me, and didn’t really hear a word.
Perhaps more honestly, I didn’t really listen to a word.
It’s made me wonder how many times it’s happened before. How many times have I been lost in my own thoughts and missed what was going on around me? It may be a symptom of the dynamics that exist at my work.
I work in a fast-paced and noisy environment where I must not only focus on my own issues but also keep an ear open for what everyone else is doing and saying. It’s not unusual to be on 2 phones at the same time while talking to a 3rd person and still listening to what’s going on throughout the office. It’s a constant state of heightened awareness that can be very tiring when combined with the stressful nature of the business in general.
That’s probably why I have a tendency to, “Check out” for a while after work.
Yet Mary-Anne deals with kids all day long. Talk about having to know what’s going on around you all the time! Mary-Anne decompresses by talking about her day. I decompress by not talking…and apparently, not listening either.
It’s not the way I want to be. After 23 years together Mary-Anne continues to be my best friend and soulmate. I know that might sound a little unrealistic (expecially after reading how I didn’t listen to her) but it’s true. We prefer each other’s company to anyone else, and really don’t have much of a social life outside of our own little world. We have a few friends we may stay in touch with on occasion but on balance we keep to ourselves…and we like it that way. We’re a bit of an oddity I guess, but we’re quite happy.
So I’m going to try to be a better listener and not completely shut down after work. It’s important to me. Besides, I’m still crazy about her :-)
I did listen better when Mary-Anne told me (the 2nd time) about Andy Mackie’s visit to the school. He didn’t just bring a harmonica for everyone in her class. He gave a harmonica to every kid in the building…the entire school! He then spent the entire day giving 90 minute lessons to groups of 60 kids at a time until he had taught every kid how to play a song or two.
Andy Mackie is quite a guy. Not only has he touched the lives of every kid at my wife’s school, he’s indirectly responsible for making me a better listener, too.
Thank you, Andy.