Hear­ing and lis­ten­ing

Maryland Independent - - Classified - By Twit­ter: @right­meg

You know, I hear ev­ery­thing . . . but am I lis­ten­ing? Life is busy, chaotic, filled with Face­book mes­sages and texts and tweets. Our phones are al­ways at our el­bows, glow­ing and flash­ing and beep­ing: an end­less stream of in­for­ma­tion.

I hear, see and read plenty — but what am I re­ally tak­ing in?

Long be­fore cell­phones be­came ce­mented to our palms, my mother had a trick for get­ting our un­di­vided at­ten­tion: start the en­gine. If you need to have a se­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tion, she’d say, wait un­til you’re in the car.

There’s no walk­ing away, no skirting or avoid­ing a topic. Your pas­sen­ger can’t dis­tract them­selves — or you — with tele­vi­sion or chores. There’s noth­ing to do but hash it out and come to a de­ci­sion. Just time and space.

Mom’s ad­vice comes back to me of­ten. Many a re­la­tion­ship has strength­ened or dis­in­te­grated in a ve­hi­cle. With a cap­tive au­di­ence, we can voice our con­cerns . . . or share the ten­der words we might not other­wise feel con­fi­dent enough to say. Eyes must stay on the road, af­ter all.

The car is ac­tu­ally my happy place. I’ve al­ways loved driv­ing. The early days were nerve-wrack­ing, of course; I re­mem­ber leaving the MVA with my new li­cense feel­ing like a fraud. How could the state con­sider me a le­gal driver? I mean, a log book and one hardly seemed like enough to my credit.

But I’d done it. Alone for the first time as I trailed my dad and sis­ter home, that first sweet taste of free­dom snuck up on me. Af­ter 16 years, I still love it.

Driv­ing is free­ing. Re­lax­ing. With the win­dows down and a fa­vorite song cranked up? That’s close to eupho­ria for me.

Traf­fic is an­other beast, of course. I see the side-eye you’re giv­ing me, think­ing of your dread­ful com­mutes, and I get it. But on the good days? Those sunny, clear, bright and aim­less days? There’s noth­ing I love more than a long af­ter­noon and empty high­way.

Now that en­joy­ment is heav­ily im­pacted by my lit­tlest pas­sen­ger, of course. Co-pi­lots and con­spir­a­tors have evolved from high school bud­dies to boyfriends to kid­dos — but like his mother, thank­fully, Oliver loves a good drive. In fact, it’s pretty much the only way we can sneak in a solid nap.

The true test is com­ing, though.

In a few weeks, we’ll be mak­ing the eight-hour trip to New York to visit our John­son fam­ily — some for the first time. This is not a drill.

At least the drive and lo­ca­tion are fa­mil­iar. I went to the Buf­falo area with Spencer as his new girl­friend in 2010. We flew that first trip, but most that fol­lowed have found us shoul­der-to-shoul­der in Spencer’s car with the whole of Penn­syl­va­nia rush­ing past us.

We chat on these drives: about the past and fu­ture, ev­ery­thing and noth­ing. In our dat­ing days, es­pe­cially, eight hours in the car to­gether seemed fun. Ro­man­tic, even. I re­mem­ber bring­ing along a list of “get to know your boyfriend bet­ter!”-types of ques­tions, and they were funny and il­lu­mi­nat­ing.

In long re­la­tion­ships, con­ver­sa­tion can get harder — but those talks are still im­por­tant. And it’s not just a sig­nif­i­cant other that could ben­e­fit from the warmth of our at­ten­tion.

My col­leagues and I ask ques­tions for a liv­ing, lis­ten­ing and in­tently not­ing oth­ers’ re­sponses. But I can be guilty of not ex­tend­ing that same at­ten­tion to my hus­band, fam­ily and friends.

It’s easy to hear . . . but are we lis­ten­ing?

This long week­end, think about some­one in your life who could use an ear. A quote from the clas­sic “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” — a film fa­vorite — comes back to me: “Ev­ery­body wants to be seen . . . and heard.” A few to get you started: • What do you feel is your great­est ac­com­plish­ment to date? Your big­gest dis­ap­point­ment?

• What is one qual­ity you re­ally ad­mire(d) about your par­ents? What do you hope your chil­dren will ad­mire about you?

• What mu­si­cian, liv­ing or dead, would you love to see in con­cert?

• How did you get your first job? Do you re­mem­ber how you spent your first pay­check?

• Where have you trav­eled, and what city do you love best? Where would you like to go next?

Whether you’re set­ting out on a road trip, crash­ing on the couch or gath­ered for fire­works, cre­ate a con­ver­sa­tion this hol­i­day week­end — in real time. No Twit­ter polls, Face­book feeds or emo­jis. Talk about the old days. Bring up fam­ily sto­ries. Drag out year­books and faded snap­shots. Get caught up in the de­tails.

It can be hard to lis­ten. I’m as guilty as any­one.

But when we do, it’s amaz­ing what we’ll hear.

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