A TREE FALLS
When I was a student in high school, our science teacher once posed an interesting question to us. If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, is there any sound? We students discussed this long and hard and finally came to the conclusion that there would be no sound. Why? Sound, we decided, is made up of vibrations in the air which create a sound only when they reach something, such as our eardrums that can convert those vibrations into sound. So, if a tree falls in the forest and there is nothing there to hear the sound, there is only silent vibrations.
I have thought about that question off and on since my high school days, but in a rather different context. When a mother in Afghanistan cries out in desperation as she watches her small child die from hunger and disease, is there any sound if no one is listening? When a family in Burma flees in terror from persecution, does only silence come from their tortured lips if there is no one who is sensitive to their cries? When a Palestinian man shouts out in anger and agony as he holds his dying son who has just been shot, does only silence come from his throat if none of us care enough to listen?
Yes, we hear. We have our radios and televisions on, so we can hear if we want. But, like the Simon and Garfunkle song says, perhaps we only hear without listening.
What does it take for us to truly listen and know what these members of our global society are saying?
Sometime back I was at a friends house to celebrate the birth of their new baby. While the baby slept in another room, we all were deeply engrossed in our various conversations. Suddenly the mother of the baby stood up. What’s wrong, we all asked in concern. Nothing, she responded. I just heard the baby cry and so I want to go pick her up.
None of us had heard the baby cry even though we were in the same room with the mother. We were too interested in our conversations to really be listening for the cry of the child. But the mother was very sensitive. She not only was listening to our conversations, but she was also listening for the sound of her child.
That is the kind of sensitivity we all need to develop. We can remain deeply involved in our work and our community lives, but we must also be ready to listen to the cries of the less fortunate in our world. When a mother from Afghanistan cries out in desperation, we not only hear, but we also listen to what she needs so that her child will not only survive, but will be able to grow up in a world which protects her dignity and humanity. When a family in Burma flees persecution, we listen to the meaning of their cries, and we respond as though they were members of our own family. When a Palestinian man shouts in anger and agony, we step in to bring the fighting to an end so that he can take his son to a secure and peaceful home.
When we truly listen to the cries for attention from those who suffer the brunt of this world’s violence, we can respond in positive and peaceful ways that will benefit us all. In doing so, we also respond to Christ, for Christ once said that what we do for the least important people in this world, we also do for him.