The winds that blew through the Wasatch Front a couple of weeks ago were destructive. And unnerving. And loud. Where I live, they hit at about 4 o’clock in the morning. I was already awake, anticipating them, wondering if we’d lose another tree like we did in the last round of high-powered gusts.
From one end of the massive storm front to the other, we all listened to it hammering away at our homes, our trees, our fences — everything around us. Relentless, seemingly bent on destruction, its incessant roar held our attention, persuading us to witness the damage it inflicted outdoors. The wind ignored the sunrise, which revealed that long band of clouds roiling over the eastern mountains — the ominous sign so familiar to locals who’ve been through this before.
Wandering from window to window, I glanced at a clock and was startled to see the hour. Why hadn’t I heard my alarm go off? My day should have started a long time ago, but here I was, mesmerized by what I was hearing and seeing. Hunting down my phone, I realized my alarm had gone off. I just wasn’t listening for it.
Our neighborhoods made it through the winds. We assessed our losses: trees downed, fences bashed, trampolines in orbit, houses battered, cars dented, many of us struggling to get along without electricity. We joined the army of people with trailers, chain saws and good hearts who went from one home to the next to gather up the mess, tarp it down, and join the endless line headed into the landfill. We survived it this time, and we will again.
Looking back, the puzzling part of the experience to me were the hours I lost that stormy morning, distracted by the noise and spectacle that diverted me from paying attention to the needs of the day. I wasn’t listening for my cue to get on with my work. Instead, I heard the wind because that’s what I was listening to. The power of that distraction is sobering.
This concept comes back to me again and again as I listen to the endless storm of election rhetoric swirling around us. Its loud, noisy, sometimes vulgar voice distracts us. We’re interested citizens paying attention to what’s going on, learning what we want and need to know. But like the winds that savaged so much of our world here, that unfiltered rhetoric blasts a mixed conglomerate at us — truth and lies, facts and fiction, reality and nonsense. It will require some serious, focused filtering to keep from being pulled from view to view, distracted, ineffective, oblivious and potentially misinformed.
Do we realize that we hear what we listen for? Years ago, I heard the story of two men walking down a city street. The first man commented to the second how much he enjoyed the sound of the birds singing. The second man said scornfully, “There are no birds in this city.” The first man went silent. A few minutes later he let a quarter fall from his hand onto the pavement. The second man immediately turned and said, “Do you know you dropped some money?” His companion ruefully smiled, aware his friend could, indeed, hear what he listened for.
In the coming months, we will hear so much. And we will pay attention to what we’re listening for. The relentless noise will hammer on, incessantly bent on holding our attention, persuading us to walk from viewpoint to viewpoint, to sometimes wonder if the whole spectacle is all bent on destruction. We live in a uniquely free nation where we have the right to express what we want to say, voice our concerns and seek answers to our questions. We also possess the indisputable right to sort through it all, search for the truth and extract what we need and want for our own understanding and decision.
In the gathering storm of this critical election year, we will hear what we want to hear. Our nation’s future depends on us figuring out what we’re listening for.