Learning To Listen


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.

4 thoughts on “Learning To Listen

  1. torqdog says:

    Wow Stu…… I’d normally say something like “ah, don’t worry…… it’s just early stages of Old-timers disease” but this sounds more serious. My suggestion is, besides what you’ve already realized about the listening thing, is to show Mary-anne this post you made. Very touching and I’m sure she’ll understand you a little better. ;-)

  2. Bill says:

    Well I can only ask a couple of questions:

    #1-I thought I was your best friend and soulmate and,

    #2-Did you color your beard?

    Now, to the subject…what were we talking about? Oh, yeah, listening to one another.

    -I said, L-I-S-T-E-N-I-N-G to one another!
    -Oh, ok, sorry… hey, did you see where I put that little plastic dealy?
    -No, you asked me that last night.
    -Oh, well I can’t find it and I…you’re not listening to me!
    -Yes, I am, really, I am!
    -How can you be listening to me while you text your brother?
    -Oh, sorry, now what did you say?
    -I said I need that little plastic thingy to hang your bathroom mirror.
    -Hmm (looking through women’s magazine) well, why don;t you…look at this skirt! Sorry, what did you say?
    -I said I slept with your sister last night…do you care?
    -I said I Have Not seen your plastic thingy!
    -Ok…I’m going to tour the country with a death metal band.
    -What?!? Have you seen the cat?
    -I’m going to go downstairs and play a video game!
    -No! no, don’t go! I want you to hang out with me!!!

  3. Bill says:

    And my favorite scene in Dumb and Dumber was the couple walking past the guys on the sidewalk in Aspen and Daniel’s character stares as they pass and says,”Nice ass!”

    And Carrey says,”Yeah, I’ll bet he works out!”

    • Stu says:

      That movie is full of great quotes and great scenes! It appeals to my sophmoric sense of humor. I still howl at the bathroom scene, and when they walk into the dinner party in those tuxes.

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