What if I mattered? What if sin, time and death don’t exist? What do the dying see that we do not?

What if wonder and love bang drums at me just so I can hear a faint shred of reality?

When I was a tiny girl, the gate to the divine stood open. I had just come through. It was easy to glance back and waterbabymoonremember. Words didn’t matter. I didn’t know what anything was supposed to mean.

Wind made leaves tremble, sunlight made water glisten and thunder made me shout. In my bed darkness held me close until the first bird murmured before dawn. Awareness was a joy dance that I already knew.

Kneeling in the long grass under the lilacs, I can’t tell if I’m an old woman or a small girl. There is no time. If I sit quietly, no one will call me in. My grandmother might be whipping the eggs for angel food cake in the kitchen. I creep along the stone wall by the kitchen window to where there are lilies of the valley and a jack-in-the-pulpit. No one sees me, but I know I am here.

Our house is a white colonial on a hill with old trees. At night, the orb of light from the lamppost shines against the dark like the lamppost in Narnia’s winter woods. Behind the house, at the very back, where our yard touches the Jewish family’s yard, violets and lilies of the valley grow. This is where fairies live.

As the dirty snow melts in early spring, I find snowdrops growing in the front yard close to the wall. One March day I squat by the driveway with a stick and make up a story. I am alone in the world. Ice along the street makes slush islands, and the only sound is the trickle of water. There is no time. I stay out until it is too dark to see. There is only water, slush and the stick in my hand, bliss that belongs only to me.

But the gate closed, as it always does. I learned I was both small and bad. I tried to fit in, as every child does. I needed to learn how to please my parents so that I would not be spanked. Like every child, I needed to be good, whatever “good” meant.

Until I was 18, I had no idea the gate had closed.

At 18, I discover that there are sounds—easy, obvious sounds—that I cannot perceive. It turns out what I think is real is just chatter that makes me deaf.

This is how the gate opens, but I don’t know it yet. I teeter on the cliff’s edge.

I’m wearing big black headphones, sitting in a Hindi language lab at the UW. I glare at the curly script on my worksheet. It’s Devanagari, the script of Sanskrit. I hear “bee–bee,” “jo–jo,” “ta–ta”—two identical words. But the textbook says there are two sounds, two words as different as “bee” and “pee.” And the curly alphabet shows two letters, not one.

Mr. Upadhyaya, the Hindi instructor, watches our faces. The man next to me, a Jesuit priest, taps his pencil in annoyance. We wait. We do the drill again. Again we hear two identical sounds. We are certain there is no difference. Class ends.

It’s an intensive summer training program in Madison. Outside our classroom sailboats skim Lake Mendota and joggers run from the student union to Picnic Point. We drink sodas and laugh with engineering students from India. They are sweet, interesting and handsome. Their English is charming but strange.

Back in the language lab a week later, I grimace as I put on the headphones. A friend from Missouri sketches in her notebook. I practice the beautiful Hindi letters. We listen again: “ka–ka,” “dee–dee,” “cha–cha.” After weeks of listening, still there is no difference.

Mr. Upadhaya watches our faces. “Keep your headphones on.” We shake our heads and glance at each other. He hands out a new sheet, and we all make faces. Now there are four words that are supposed to sound different. He draws diagrams on the chalkboard to show how these sounds are made.

We stare at the chart as Mr. Upadhaya reads it again. “Tee–tee–tee–tee.” How can there be four T’s? They sound the same to me. I make a face and the Jesuit priest next to me laughs.

After weeks of listening, I start to hear something new. What used to sound like “ja–ja” now sounds like “ja–jha.” What used to sound like “bi–bi” now sounds like “bi–bhi.” And, just as in English, “fish” is spelled differently from “pish,” the sounds we could not hear each has its own letter in the Hindi alphabet.

Now when we drink tea with Mr. Upadhaya’s pretty wife, I realize she has an accent because she’s using Indian consonants to replace English ones. And when we laugh with the Indian engineering students, I start hearing words and phrases I know.

It takes months to hear the new sounds, but once I hear them, I hear them forever. In the beginning they are faint. Soon they thrum in my ears, as important as the difference between alive and dead.

It feels like I am walking on the moon.

I am less deaf than I used to be. The gate is open a little bit, and my reality changes forever.

I thought I could hear well, but I was deaf to sounds that were all around me. Cocky and smug, I thought I perceived what was out there. I did not.

Eckhart Tolle says, “Give yourself completely to the act of listening. Beyond the sounds there is something greater, a sacredness that cannot be understood through thought.”

What I know now is that when I really listen, I can hear the universe singing to me. It sings a love song more true than time.

“You are the light.”
“Nothing needs hatred.”
“There is no death.”

As an old woman, I wait to hear new sounds. I want the wonder and delight.

I sit quietly. I know I have to wait a while because I’ve done this before.

In the beginning it’s just a shred, a wisp. But I know it’s there, and that is what makes the difference.

Until I know such sounds exist, I cannot perceive them. Once I know they exist, it’s easy. My perception expands into the universe. I become able to hear the ancient song of the divine.

Once I hear it, I do not lose it. The music stays, singing forever of hope, trust and love. It is both the end and the beginning of everything.

–by Jean Gendreau

3 thoughts on “The Sounds I Cannot Hear

  1. Thanks for sharing. I need to learn how to enlarge the writing. My Macular Degeneration for which I get shots once a month for about 13 years stops the bleeding behind the eye but I have to have large print. You have a wonderful gift. So glad that God put you in my life — what an encourager you are.
    I am pushing 93. Blessings. Judy Wick Hanson


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