Catherine McAleer’s entry I’m listening was awarded second prize in The Good Oil 2023 Writers’ Award, which aims to support and encourage the development of both emerging and published writers.
You’re the voice. With my hands tucked into my pockets, I wanted to put my head down and retreat under my cap as if to do so from the world, but the biting August wind alerted my senses and refused to let me do so. I felt the morning dew seep through my socks and shoes, as I walked through the park. I silently apologised to the night owls still tucked up in bed when I aroused the neighbourhood dogs. I caught a hint of the premature spring with a waft of jasmine. Mother Nature beckoned me to pay attention.
I looked up and saw a face shrouded in a translucent grey.
Try and understand it. I gasped. It was beautiful and familiar yet its full beauty hovered just beyond the stroke of the clock. Experience taught me that if I waited long enough, I would see it clearly. The moon has its way. It is quiet, yet confident and strong. Interestingly, it uses the light of another to shine. That’s part of its beauty. Yet it is the moon, clearly recognisable as being so. On a quiet suburban street, that particular Wednesday the inherent beauty of the morning captivated me. God the Creator had my attention. I was listening.
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:14)
Make a noise and make it clear. Looking back, this love affair with the natural world began early for me but was heightened by the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2021. On allowed walks, I looked for the mighty and the majestic, the mesmerising and the minuscule.
That’s what happens when you walk the same path over and over again during endless weeks of lonely quiet. You begin to pay attention to everything. I was not the only one who revelled in God’s glorious landscape, who wondered how to capture the exquisite palette of sunrises and who marvelled at how the dew could transform a leafless tree into a jaw-dropping masterpiece.
Nor was I the only one who noticed the transformative benefits of slowing down and staying close to home. At the time, it was reported by scientists across the globe that the air quality in big cities during the lockdowns improved. Fewer cars meant a reduction of nitrogen dioxide equalling less pollution. This not only had a positive impact on those suffering respiratory conditions, it meant the earth could pause and … breathe. Noticeably breathe.
The few and far between good news stories visually depicted clearer skies over usually smog-ridden cities. Wildlife returned to spaces human impact had driven them from and whilst studies revealed there was significant reduction in noise pollution, anecdotally, people could tell you that their neighbourhoods were quieter, they enjoyed the outdoors and generally paid more attention to what was going on around them.
Oh, whoa! When ploughing ahead in society where busyness is worn like an Olympic gold, each day runs the risk of looking the same and we fail to see God’s infinite love in our surroundings. When we really pay attention we see nothing is the same and understand that God’s infinite love is ever-present.
Back then, I remember there was much to engage the senses – fog laden valleys, dogs barking, newborn calves frolicking in the paddocks, magpies chortling, hundreds of dewy spider webs sparkling in the morning sun, the sun’s rays splintering through the leaves differently each day, ever-changing cloud formations, frogs croaking, horses huffing, big old trees losing leaves and then regaining them, and so much more. Each day a gift awaited and as I rolled out of bed, I was impatient to see what the masterful artist had for my delight.
“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?” (Job 12:7-9)
We’re not gonna sit in silence. We are catapulting towards irreversible damage to the earth with rising temperatures, over consumption of natural resources and the persistent use of fossil fuels. It is woven so deeply into our daily lives that when we try and extricate ourselves from it, it is impossible.
Yet, to do nothing is to be an accomplice. I must play my part – read the latest research, listen to the stories of climate refugees and advocates, think twice before I buy into consumerism and act as though my life depends on it … because it does. Powerful and deeply moving videos produced during lockdown reinforced the beauty and power of Mother Nature.
A virus, undetected by the naked eye brought the world to its knees. And it should have brought us to our knees. It stopped us in our tracks and forced us to look at the world around us, to what we were doing and to pay attention. The regeneration of spaces quickly revealed that what we do does make a difference. Since then we have charged on, seemingly forgetful that we are capable of change for good, instead returning to ‘business as usual’. Opening our eyes, our ears and our heart is imperative.
We’re not gonna live with fear. This is where we’re living now. It’s Wednesday morning – there is beauty to behold and much to be done. Listen to the whisper of the wind, the moisture levels of the soil, the sounds of the day waking and the light of the moon, never forgetting where it comes from. Where it all comes from. Hear the human story, question the cause of the increase in bushfires, the floods, the droughts and the rising oceans. This wounded soul needs love. The proof of love is deed.
“Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you”. (Acts 18:9-10)
My morning walk is complete. I later hear a momentary pause in the rich tones of John Farnham’s voice:
You’re the voice
Try and understand it
Make a noise and make it clear
We’re not gonna sit in silence
We’re not gonna live with fear