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INTERSECTIONS: Listening to God


Brad Cotton

Ernest Hemingway, asked about writing, spoke of the artist as listening to the world. Ernest, writer of seeming simple fish stories, advised aspiring writers to “When people speak, listen completely. Most people never listen.” Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-lighted Place” is the finest short story and the most compassionate handling of the human search for meaning and dignity ever written. Hemingway’s complex and engineered public persona obscures the writer who crafted this poetic work alone in the quiet at his desk. Listen to this story as you read it slowly. Read it at 3 a.m.–the time when the questions come.

“Listen…” the Reverend John Maclean asks of his two sons in the film “A River Runs Through It.” Immediately follows a wordless pause as the Reverend and his two sons listen to the sounds of the Big Blackfoot river in the Montana dawn. The film ends a lifetime later with the elder son fishing the river alone, as we all are destined to do:

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

Some of the words are yours.

Last fall my siblings and I spread my Mom and Dad’s ashes among the trees in “the gulley” in front of our former home in Pittsfield, Ohio. Married 64 years, they died on the same day, 28 October 2014, together in the same room. It felt right, it feels right placing them there among the trees. They will become part of the trees and leaves, the leaves will spread through the wind and the creek around the world, around my siblings and I.

My sibs and I have done well, Mom and Dad were proud. My older sister Corinne, a flight attendant turned ER social worker, myself, once an errant listener now an ER physician, brother Ryan city manager of Holland, Michigan, Tyler educated as a teacher took over Dad’s industrial sales business.

I listen to my sibs speak after we spread ashes. They are beautiful. The gulley is beautiful, it took about 50 years to recover from the 11 April 1965 Palm Sunday tornadoes. Our friend Peter, 8, was killed that day. I wonder where, how his brother Andrew is. We had all romped as boys here.

I remember biking down to the Hughes Road bridge over the Black River. I used to sit there for hours and listen. A transistor radio spoke to me about Vietnam, about riots and cities burning. I tuned in 5 June 1968, hoping all day the Robert Kennedy would live.

The Black River is still there. I write out of the quiet to you.

The film “Fireproof” talks about listening to your spouse. I delight when Toye’s face and eyes light up when she talks. I may not care about cross-stitching, but delight that she does.

Quakers believe in listening to God together. We listen and speak out of the quiet. I invite you to join us every second and fourth Sunday at 2 p.m. at Scioto Valley Coffee. Check our website first, as we sometimes miss a day. www.circlevillefriendsworshipgroup.org.

Listen. God is speaking.

This article originally appeared on The Pickaway News Journal