Hearing Aids

A quote on body language by Ralph Waldo Emerson, "what you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say."

I sorta see and hear things unnoticed by most.

Not like Jeanne d’Arc’s visions of the Archangel Michael telling her to save France. My experiences are much more corporeal. For instance, this morning, in the coffee shop . A twenty-something young man in front of me was warmly greeted by the slightly younger, twenty-something cashier.

“Matt, long time! How’s married life treating you?”

“So far so good. We just had our three week anniversary.”

“The next thing you know it’ll be ten years.”

There is so much pain in her smiling face it almost floors me. Though he appears oblivious, maybe Matt knows she’s heartbroken. She gingerly holds out his credit card and receipt, and flinches when his fingers brush her palm.

In August, I published Listening, A Visual Art. I wrote on how much people say without words. Body language. Micro expressions — a fascinating science I first learned of in a New Yorker article by Malcom Gladwell. There’s a link in the other post if you’re interested.

I never chose to hone my fluency in non-verbal languages. It’s my wiring. As a “fixer” it is valuable tool to divert attention from one’s self and appear compassionate.

One memorable example of my fluency took place decades ago. My ex-wife Caroline and I were attending a wedding. We were chatting with Caroline’s undergraduate roommate, Elizabeth. A woman came over and introduced herself. She knew Alice, my wife’s law school roommate. This woman lived in the same home town as Alice. The chat was over in less than two minutes.

Immediately, upon her departure I announced, “She’s sleeping with Whitney.”

Whitney is Alice’s ex-long-time boyfriend, college, law school, and beyond. His name hadn’t come up. I just knew it. My wife, Elizabeth, and her husband Tom just stared at me like I was crazy.

A year later we learned the woman and Whitney had been in a secret relationship.

An odd manifestation of noticing things is I catch errors in movies. The reflection of a camera on a car. Ponytails that change lengths in a scene. When I was married, I occasionally exasperated my wife, stopping films, rewinding, confirming I saw something amiss. She’d ask me, “How can you enjoy the story when you’re just looking for flaws?”

I wasn’t looking for them. I just saw them.

Tara Brach wrote, and I paraphrase, when you get angry, you’re not angry with the other person, you’re angry over your reaction to the person. That makes sense. That sentiment is part of the reason I strive to take mindful pauses, trying to respond, not react. You’d think being able to hear what is unsaid an advantage. Not always it turns out.

As an empath, it is extremely easy to for me to get sidetracked by anything other than my own feelings. Now I’m trying to channel the same attention I’ve paid others inwardly. I am learning to focus on my feelings, rather than allowing myself to be distracted by heartbroken waitresses.

Stay in touch. Connect.


P.S. Watch the length of Dorthy’s braids at the beginning of the scene and the end.

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