Sights and sounds

I’m in the habit of turning off lights. I frequently walk around the church and turn off lights that others have turned on. I turn off the lights that are left on in our home. I’ll sometimes turn off the light as I leave a room only to hear a complaint from someone who is still in that room and needs the light. I like to roam around familiar places with no lights on at all. I don’t turn on the lights to wander around my house at night. I frequently walk around the church early in the morning with the lights turned off.

On the other hand, if someone else wants to turn on the lights, it rarely bothers me. I’ll go to bed in the evening and if my wife is doing something in the bedroom with the lights on it doesn’t bother me at all. She will sometimes comment on my ability to sleep with the lights on and I comment that I close my eyes when I sleep and the world gets dark when I close my eyes.

For technical accuracy, I’m not quite right in that statement. Eyelids don’t block all of the light. They are a thin layer of skin and light is able to pass through the skin. A light shined directly in the face of a person with closed eyes can be perceived. But how much light bothers a sleeping person varies from individual to individual. I know people who have a hard time sleeping when there is light in the room. Most articles and books seeking to advise shift workers on sleeping during the day advise investing in good blackout curtains to get the bedroom as dark as possible. I’ve wondered if the skin on my eyelids is thicker than some people so that the light is less of a bother.

Sounds, however, are different. We don’t have lids on our ears. One can bury one’s head in a pillow or wear earplugs or other devices to close out sound, but for the most part our ears are always “turned on.” I frequently hear noises in the night that my wife does not. I love the sound of the coyotes singing in the night and I think I may have taught myself to wake up when I hear them. I’ll frequently wake for a few minutes and listen to them even though they generally are very far away. Recently when we were in our camper at our son’s home I heard coyotes in the night and the next morning no one else in our family had heard them. I’ll also report having heard the neighbor’s stereo or some commotion in the neighborhood that others do not hear.

I have wondered if the difference in my perception of sight and sound has anything to do with the fact that my vision is far from perfect. From the time I started school, I have worn corrective lenses. I can make the world go out of focus simply by removing my glasses. I now wear glasses that correct for near vision, far vision and astigmatism. For most of my life I’ve not seen things that others do. I used to marvel at my brother’s ability to see animals that were distant. He’d spot a deer on the hillside and even with him describing to me its location, I wouldn’t see it. He could see fish in the river that I could not.

I know, however, that my hearing isn’t perfect. There are high pitched sounds that others can hear that I do not. I will sometimes miss words in a conversation, especially in a loud or crowded room. I’ve been known to ask a grandchild to repeat words in a conversation. And I know that listening is a skill that requires practice.

I have often been in worship where a leader invites the congregation to pray silently. I avoid the use of the words silent or silence when referring to prayer. When our congregation enters into quiet prayer, it is far from silent. I hear the sounds of the congregation - breathing, stomachs rumbling, coughs and sneezes, children murmuring, rustling of fabrics as people move. Our prayers are not truly silent. So I prefer to use the term “quiet prayer.” What we offer to God does not require words spoken aloud, but we still offer ourselves to God and those selves make sounds. I like the sound of our congregation. I also use the sounds of our congregation to determine the space between words. I invite quiet prayer and never use a watch or timer to judge the length of time before I next speak. I can feel the mood of the congregation without using a clock. I’m pretty sure that the amount of time allowed for prayer varies widely week to week. Sometimes we sit quietly for just a few seconds, other times we might be quiet for a couple of minutes. Always, there are things to hear while we pray.

We live in a place where most of the night sounds are natural, but there are plenty of other sounds. At night, the loudest feature of our home is our refrigerator. It is approaching 25 years old and I’m sure they make quieter units, but we are used to its sound. We don’t have forced air heat in our home, but the radiant heat units make the sound of expanding metal when they are turned on. I hear cars passing on the road behind our home. One of my favorite nighttime noises is the wind in the pine trees. I grew up next to the river and I love that sound at night, but here we are too far from running water. The wind in the pine trees, however, is a wonderful sound and I miss it when the cold of winter forces us to close the windows or when we travel to places that are not in the forest.

I seem to have no need for the ability to close my ears, but I’m grateful for the ability to close my eyes. I think I can hear better when I do.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!