Selective Hearing

Help Us Keep Good Manners and Always Seek the Light

By Steve Carr

I can’t swear to it, but I’m pretty sure the man giving the prayer concluded with, “And help us keep the bananas in the fridge at night.” On my way home, I found myself humming the old jingle, “Chiquita Banana,” by Carmen Miranda. Anyway, It reminded me that bananas don’t get along with refrigerators. So maybe I misheard the missive.

I’m not sure I hear as clearly as I used to. I’ve wondered if age is catching up and my ears aren’t as sharp as they once were. I could check for interference, for late-middle-age hair growing there, but I suspect that’s not the problem.  I wonder if hearing loss, for many of us, isn’t entirely physiological. Having been accused of selective hearing, I’m sensitive to the issue. After some soul-searching, I’ve concluded that just maybe I’ve been guilty, once or twice, of hearing what I want to hear. However, if this is true, I maintain it’s selective, in the vein of Darwin’s survival of the fittest. 

Let me explain. As a boy, and obedient son, I heard what I heard and didn’t second-guess. Mom used to say, “Itch your fingers” each time I shut the car door. Years of itching may have turned my hands hamburger-raw, but I never questioned my mother. Much later I asked about the odd instruction. “Watch,” she said. “Watch your fingers.” In a way, by following orders as I heard them, my mother’s instruction served its purpose. By itching, I kept my fingers out of harm’s way. Had I just watched, I may have witnessed a smashing. My young brain was already evolving, hearing what it needed to hear.

Not so long ago I said to my brother, “Let’s play it by ear,” while discussing possible evening plans.

“How are we going to do that?” he asked.

“Let’s wait and see what develops,” I responded.

“But I was talking about tonight.”

“I know. Let’s play it by ear,” I said again.

“Year,” he said. “The phrase is ‘Let’s play it by year.’”

No wonder his side of our shared childhood bedroom was always a mess. He believed he had months to get things done. He needed the year. My brainy brother had lots of global issues percolating. He couldn’t be bothered by mindless chores, even if it meant he’d be grounded. Conversely, I kept a clean room, pleasing Mom, thereby allowing me to keep my options open so I could . . . play it by ear.

Although I’m pretty confident the prayer had nothing to do with bananas, I suspect it was what I needed to hear, somehow better for my fragile psyche than a call to some unattainable righteous action. Selective hearing that matures just may be one of those lonely virtues of aging.

So the next time you’re told, “You need to take out the garbage,” and you hear, “There needs to be a new car in the garage,” and you’re later accused of selective hearing, roll with it. You’re probably just evolving, learning to survive and thrive.

No doubt there’s a greater purpose, yet to be fully understood, for the sleek yet rugged new SUV now nesting alongside your old van. The unevolved could easily miss such an opportunity.

And, after all, won’t the garbage man come back around next week?

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