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LifestyleRetirement

My Turn: The gift of listening rewards those who still themselves

I sit on our patio swing seat, reading a book, "Cutting for Stone" (by Abraham Verghese). The page describes a young boy who follows his father to a small Ethiopian hospital operating stage where the boy is invited to bend down and listen to the unusual clapping sound in a patient’s pulse. The boy is intrigued with the magic of sensing auditory clues to bodily malfunctions. Afterward, his father gifts him a stethoscope to further his skills.

I lay the book down on my lap and start swinging, forward and back with swirling motions. I try concentrating on the errant sounds around me of which I rarely take note. The more I listen, the more types of sounds populate my mind and I make a mental list of them. I am gradually amazed to realize that they seem to be instruments in a pickup chamber orchestra, playing in unison.

Small birds chirp and large birds squawk as katydids collectively strum a high-frequency beat that goes on throughout. A neighbor’s suburban backyard waterfall contributes a constant whooshing sound, and an airplane soars overhead with a low moan. A timely railroad train joins in with a relaxing drawn-out thumping amplified by the growl of a motorcycle — until both are quieted. Again the maestro raises his baton and a nearby circular saw buzzes, grinds and rests. Domestic conversation from a house down the block floats overhead, and soon after anonymous folks chuckle happily from a neighboring sunroom. Their joviality matches the staccato of the small birds in an intertwined chorus.

Children at play call to one another as the still air muffles their words and a distant ice cream truck chimes in with an old children’s song, stopping for a few minutes for a sale or two, then resuming — and stopping and resuming until it sweetly fades away. And so it goes, for at least a half-hour. I don’t want to interrupt the unfolding composition. The sound of my gentle swinging is silent, yet I still feel it orchestrated into the musical mélange like the pulse of a regular heartbeat.

A squirrel cautiously steps within the wide diameter of my rising and falling feet and stops to peer at me before fleeing. I feel connected with my immediate world of unplanned entertainment. I can’t remember doing anything like this for scores of years, not since as a young child I lay attentively alone on the green grass of my front lawn or lazily in bed on a nonschool day, listening to the early risers already at play on the street. Their voices would echo through the air — and I could hear the whistle of a passenger train carry for miles to my bedroom window.

Over all these years, I’ve played thousands of records, CDs and mp4 files of far-ranging musical categories. Three of the CDs feature only sounds of nature: birds, rainstorms, wind, etc., but I haven’t listened to those virtual experiences in 30 or 40 years. And now, here I am listening to the real thing, a concert of ambient music — a potpourri of nature, machines and human life, all at my pleasure, totally unsolicited, but blissfully welcomed. What a gift is at my feet. May I only remember again to stop my day, truly stop, and truly listen.

Marc Josloff,

Freeport

YOUR STORY Letters and essays for My Turn are original works (of up to 600 words) by readers that have never appeared in print or online. Share special memories, traditions, friendships, life-changing decisions, observations of life or unforgettable moments for possible publication. Email act2@newsday.com. Include name, address, phone numbers and photos if available. Edited stories may be republished in any format.

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