By Nathan Heath '19
I believe in a brain that rests and an ear that listens. Not the sort of listening you do in intimate conversation, but the listening you do everywhere else: listening to the natural world, to city sounds, to groups of people, to silence. My father taught me this valuable lesson when he fell asleep smiling at a Christmas party last year.
He was always eager to attend a dinner party. He relished the company and the occasion and delighted in the prospect of meeting new people—and he loved free food. He repeated the same routine every time I accompanied him to one of these events: He would arrive, peel off his coat, and drift over to a table of hors d’oeuvres, where he’d encounter a stranger and sink into happy conversation. Several hours later, he’d claim a spot on the host’s sofa, and several hours after that, we might leave. The final step was never a guarantee—if he’d had anything more than one glass of wine, he’d remain fastened to the couch for an extra hour or so.
On one mild evening, incidentally, I found him cemented into a leather armchair with his now-empty glass of New Hampshire IPA.
“Dad,” I chuckled. “We just got here!”
He smiled. “I’m absorbing the evening, Nathan. You never truly appreciate the joy of a dinner party until you sit back and just… listen. You listen to every noise—every noise at once—but you focus on none of them.” He smiled again. “It’s the happy hum of conversation that you miss when you’re talking or listening to just one person—or when you’re chewing.”
I turned to refill my root beer and lost his words in the jolly commotion of the evening. But he was right, I realized. I remembered all the times I sat below the big oak tree in my front yard listening to the leaves as they tossed above my head. I remembered the time I got lost in New York City—how I sat down, defeated, on a park bench and calmed myself with the murmuring throb of traffic. I remembered that translucent Vermont morning when the lake lay in silent slumber before the birds began to sing. And I remembered most of all the peace: carefree, absolving, almost gleeful peace.
He must’ve been right, I figured. He drifted off in that armchair several moments later with an empty glass in his hand and a smile engraved on his face. I was in need of no more proof: He was perfectly peaceful.
So I believe in listening—in opening the ears but resting the active mind. I believe in finding peace in the natural hum of the world. And I believe in falling asleep to the warm scent of human concourse.