“Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.”
~ Walker Evans
I sat across from three grannies. I had the contents of the universe open on my laptop, and still I couldn’t help but listen in. Eavesdropping is one of my spiritual gifts, and I want to die knowing something. Preferably something about you, or the three grannies, as it were. I didn’t plan to tune in for too long. I used my decidedly un-spiritual gift of making snap judgements, and figured the grannies’ conversation would take a circuitous route around their grandkids or the latest sale at Kohl’s, with a little health related drama to spice things up. I’m a bit too far from seventy to find the nickel and dime injuries of time interesting.
I kept one ear trained on them and one ear on the cacophony of voices online. With so many people clamoring to be heard, I find I sometimes forget to listen for the ones that matter. The ones attached to decades worth of laugh lines and a crown of white hair. The voices whose laughter sounds like music and who drop their hard-earned pearls before swine. I don’t know when we collectively decided that these pearls no longer matter. Perhaps we think they never did.
I worked in a nursing home for years, surrounded by grannies and granddads whose voices we relegated to the chiming of a call bell. Many had seen the horrors of war, had rationed their way through adulthood, had lived on the promise of a coming peace. Many buried children, and worked tirelessly for just enough gain. Many were all alone in this world, left to make memories with strangers, strangers who talked pills with them in return for a week’s pay.
I regret the conversations I never had. I regret not scooping up the pearls and stringing them around my neck, something beautiful and luminous, something to run a finger over later. I wonder what they died knowing, and what I will die without.
The three grannies, they wore silver bracelets that clinked when they moved their hands. They carried leather handbags, and wore funny socks, and they held the power of life and death in their tongues. They talked about it too, about the cancer scare and their own spirituality. They discussed social media and foster care and one friend’s lovely shade of gray hair. They talked about a book and travel and how to care for the dying.
I wanted to shout, “Dear God, grannies, teach me!” Teach me because I am not here long, and I am tired of eavesdropping when I want to know something. I want them to tell me, face to face, their hard stories, their real ones, and the nickel and dime ones too.
To those that have ears, let them hear.