When I go running I usually listen to music. In doing so I block out most of the world around me focusing intensely on the next spot my foot will land. Such was my state of mind just after a rainstorm earlier this week. I was running down the side of the street just about a mile from our apartment. My headphones were in and I was absorbed in my own world. But something in my peripheral vision caught my attention.
There was a flash of light on the ground next to me. It was so apparent that I slowed down and turned to see what had caused it. But nothing, no one, was there. I was alone on the sidewalk, music pumping in my ears.
I resumed my run but the flash appeared again, out of the corner of my eye in the lower half of my vision. I stopped running completely this time and that’s when I found the source.
The recent rainfall had left several puddles collected in the pavement along my route. There they sat placidly, dormant but fresh, reflecting the grey sky and pulling together other reflections from their surroundings. One of these reflections was my own, and the flash of color I’d seen in the corner of my eye had been own blurred image darting past the puddles on the sidewalk.
It’s times like these when the world around me reflects itself into my own existence, all the while sounding out like a sub-conscious whisper. It’s these moments when I lean over to look closer at the puddle on the side of the road and the face looking back reminds me: “you are part of something more”.
The sun came out yesterday and most of the puddles dried up. As it was setting, I took a drive down a road lined on either side with trees. The leaves haven’t come in yet so the trees were still mere skeletons consisting solely of branches and perhaps a few promising buds. In the fading sunlight their shadows extended themselves in straight lines across the road, creating distinct patterns of darkness with golden light in-between. As I drove beneath them the intermittent patterns slid over my car, waves of photons cutting over the vehicle as I imagined a grater might rub against a block of cheese. One moment darkness, the next light, up, down, a radiant blanket followed in the next moment with a shadow of relief. And with every inch the car moved down the road I felt as though the light was ripping away from me all I thought I’d seen before, grating the scales off of my very own eyes.
Listen to your life, the theologian and writer Frederick Buechner instructed. And I am prone to agree with him. Listen to your life as you are driving down the road, paying for groceries, filling out your timesheet, sprinting past puddles, absorbed in your own mind, your own psyche, your own thoughts. Listen to your life and listen to what it tells you.
But I would have to add a nuance to Buechner’s statement. I would insist that the cosmos offers more to me than running through the world with headphones plugging my ears. I would insist that with every turn of the planet a narrative is being played out all around me. My role is approaching; arise and shine, the prophet Isaiah wrote. Thus, I must listen for my cue.
And so I try to listen to life. I try to witness the mundane and beautiful colliding around me before observing the same collision occurring in my own existence. I try to listen to the music that surrounds me, to the light dancing off reflections on the side of the road and the trees like soldiers ripping the scales from my eyes in the crucifixion of my own perceptions. I try to listen to life, to the birds of the air, flowers of the field, the creation, the cosmos, the tragedy and comedy unraveling itself in my midst
Because what other choice do I have? Life is calling out to me constantly. I can keep running; I can ignore the stifling curiosity in the back of my mind. I can keep running but the world will eventually run me into the ground; the burden of ignoring it is too much for me to bear. The burden of ignoring it scrapes away at my soul to the tune of normality, an existence of boredom that I would doom upon myself.
And so I try. From time to time I take out my headphones, and I lean over to my own reflection in a puddle on the side of the road. I stop and I try to listen to life.
And, joy of joys, in listening to life I find myself within it.