Saturday night, like many other Saturday nights. Theo and I. Legs thrown over verandah. Banana leaves a foot flip away. We’re reasoning. Topic. Biases. Ours and others. Who do we give our attention to? Who do we tune in, tune out? Theo searching for words to explain. I stop listening. He’s taking too long. He keeps stumbling over words. Pausing. Then trying again. I feel bored. Impatient. I recognize the irony. I bring myself back to listening. “You’re stuck.” I say. He laughs and tries again. “Damn,” I say, “just say what you have to say.” And we both laugh. Take it as a joke. Tiredness. Reasoning session done. We go to bed.
Next morning I notice long pauses between Theo’s words but he’s just giving me his schedule for the day and he’s a quiet man so not many words are needed. I let it go while he finds his way to the garden then to the river with his brothers to collect a trunk of stones to help build a suck away for his brother’s septic tank. From river to home to road again Theo travels for a night of giving thanks and praise through drum, prayers and biblical reasoning’s at his monthly Nyabingi gathering with Rasta brethren and sistren.
He arrives home with the sun. Sits on the verandah. Hands folded. Eyes closed. I ask how he’s feeling. “Ok,” he say, “except my left arm and hand numb,” he say. I keep him talking and realize words still not coming easy. He tells me he had a hard time reading the Psalms at the gathering. The same Psalms he chants every morning over smoke swirling sage. “Lets go,” I say.
Doctor asks him questions but never waits for answers. Scolds him like a child for not remembering Hurricane Janet the same date as his birthday. Pressure readings. Cat scan. TIA (mini stroke). Meds prescribed. Next day pressure 222/113. ‘Dead man walking,’ says his niece. Hospital run. Second doctor. Compassionate listening a bright bold highlighted pink. Theo treated as an equal. She listens. Patient. Listens to both of us. Then listens some more. Nothing like an active compassionate listener while trying to understand near paralyses, possible death experience. Stronger meds. Home. Rest. Ginger and garlic. Green papaya tea. Lemon grass and big tyme. Mango banana saffron smoothies. Saltless cooking. Regular visits to health care centre, pressure taken. Another visit to active compassionate listening doctor. Pressure down. Reevaluating relationships to life. People. Stress. Breath.
All this happens the same week Grenada participates in Global Free Listening day. The week before a small group of us practice. Open ended questions. Re centering bodies, thoughts. Checking biases. Choosing curiosity over judgement. This is not a passive thing this listening. This listening thing is active. Ceaselessly checking, letting go of our own busy interfering thoughts, opinions, suggestions. Checking diligently biases, judgments, biases, judgments.
I go to the streets regardless of anxiousness. Fear heavy with thoughts of sudden deaths. Like Sheldon’s two weeks ago. Like Denis and John Arthur, Odessa and Mary; TMT and Ms. Mado; Subira’s mom and dad, Nate and Paul; Oken and Cocoa Tea; my own maternal grandparents Frank and Francesca. I go anyway to the streets with a committed small group of Grenadian free listeners.
We on the streets. And we listening. And we hear humanity talking. We hear joy and suffering. Suffering and joy. We hear fear and hope. Hope and fear. We hear gratitude and destitute. Destitute and gratitude. We hear vulnerability and courage. Courage and vulnerability. We hear connectedness and separation. Separation and connectedness. We hear community speaking and we know we not alone.
I bring this home to Theo. ‘We all just a bunch of messed up, frightened, joyous, grateful, angry, sad, hopeful happy devastated people. He listens. He smiles and frowns at the same time. And I hear his breath knock against a cup of ginger tea, his foot thump the concrete floor, his chair squeak as he lean back, his throat swallow in a quiet acceptance of our shared humanity. And we both feel a little braver, a little stronger, more kind, more wise.