Listen

oldwriterYou’d think I’d have learned these things by now. You’ve certainly been trying very hard to teach me. Things have changed, you tell me. God is dead. The miracles are over, or, more accurately, never happened in the first place. You tell me that humans are concerned only with money and material things and with killing one another. That there is no such thing as true love, agape, that marriages cannot last. You tell me over and over again how rotten people are, that kids only care about drugs and video games and sex. And when I have failed to learn these things, you tell me I’m not listening. That I’m blind. Or stupid. For a few seconds I will believe you. And for those few seconds I will also believe in death and evil. But only for a few seconds.

Forgive me. I know that you know what you are talking about. And I’ve tried hard to pay attention. But it is the oddly-placed scent of the rose growing from the crack in the cement of the slums that distracts me. That and the old woman who stoops to water it, carefully, tenderly, each day. It is the ghetto child’s giggle and his shrill, sadness-conquering laughter as he swings higher and higher above the playground and imagines himself soaring like the eagles. It is the doctor who leaves his meal mid-bite and rushes through the restaurant to help the choking man. It is the tired husband who holds his sick wife’s hand and rubs her shoulders as she pukes into the toilet. I see and hear these things and suddenly I can’t remember what you’ve told me. Suddenly I can’t even recall who you are, why you are here, where you’ve come from. Suddenly, I can’t see or hear you at all. Suddenly you’re not even here anymore.

Some people never listen. Maybe they don’t know how.

My eight-year-old daughter makes crayon drawings of scenes from nature: mountains, valleys, rainbows and the like, then takes the paper they’re drawn on and wraps them around empty soda cans and secures them with invisible tape. Bright orange suns shine from between snow-capped purple mountains. Rainbows curve splendidly from puffy blue-white clouds. V-shaped birds soar in indigo skies.

“Those are beautiful,” I tell her.

“Thank you,” she says matter-of-factly. I’ve obviously told her something she already knows. She gathers together a whole six-pack of her art, then stands them in a line on a table and steps back to view them with what I take to be a critical eye. She screws up her lips, frowns.

“So,” I say, “what are you going to do with them?” I ask this, knowing as I speak that she plans to make of them a gift to me, as she has unerringly done in the past.

“Sell them,” she says.

“Sell them?”

“Sure,” she says. She looks at me. “Do you think a hundred dollars apiece is too little to ask?”

I cough.

By the end of the evening, after a small lesson in economics, she has revised her asking price to fifty cents—and seems to have lost a lot of the bravado she’d had earlier on. And me, I feel like a heel. I want suddenly to rush out and take out a bank loan to buy these cans from my daughter, if for no other reason than to simply make her know that she and everything she creates is worth all I have, even my own life, if necessary.

And I can’t help but think that we’ve both just lost something that, for the very short time we had it, was very, very good.

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