Shabbat Ha’azinu 5779/September 21-22, 2018
So long, Paul Simon.
We didn’t exactly “harmonize ‘til dawn,” but for 2 ½ hours Monday night, I got to harmonize with the nearly ageless songwriter at one of his final concerts, from Pittsburgh’s favorite, “America” (because he and Kathy boarded the Greyhound here) through “Sounds of Silence” at the end of the second encore. For me it was especially fitting that Simon ended with the song that describes “people hearing without listening,” a line that is at the heart of Chapter 2 of Healing People, Not Patients – which is officially in print as of today!
Coincidentally, the idea that there is a difference between hearing and listening is also right at the beginning of the portion of the Torah being read around the Jewish world this Shabbat. The portion, called “Ha’azinu” (“Listen” or “Give Ear”) is a farewell tour of its own sort, the end of Moses’ second encore before the Israelites move on without him. He opens with, “Give ear, oh Heavens, let me speak; let the earth hear the words I utter.” The earth merely hears, passively; the heavens – they listen. They “give ear.” They are paying attention. Be like the heavens. They’re better listeners.
When we listen, really give ear in the way I imagine Moses felt God was listening to him, we hear something incredible: we can hear the “sounds of silence,” what Simon called “songs that voices never shared.”
Years before #metoo, years before the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, an internist from North Carolina named Richard Weinberg published an article entitled “Communion” in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Because he listens, because he gives ear to the woman with the chronic abdominal pain and finds their shared humanity in a love of Italian pastry, he hears the horrifying tale of how her sister’s boyfriend raped her one night, and her shame and silence over how revealing the story would have destroyed her family. “You’re the only one I’ve ever told,” is how the last verse of her song goes.
Except that there is a coda to her song, a year or more later. It goes, “Thank you for believing in me.”
I have been blessed to be where Richard Weinberg was, to hear the song about an affair hidden from the world for decades, the one about the way the world falls apart when a daughter dies from suicide, or the ballad of a courageous survivor of cycle upon cycle of abuse from multiple abusers. The most amazing thing that Weinberg shows as he describes how the woman gradually transforms from a woman hiding in colorless, oversized clothing to a “vibrant, alive” woman ready to strike out on a trip to Italy and begin her higher education. And I can say from firsthand experience that his story is not unique: sometimes singing these songs out loud, having them heard, can be the first step toward healing.
This book was almost a song that my voice never shared, until someone listened (thank you, Jewish Healthcare Foundation). Now I can sing it for you.
You may also have a song your voice has never shared, about your struggle, your pain, your “illness ballad (or maybe it’s a torch song, or even a parody).” You may have kept it silent because everyone you tried to sing it for was hearing without listening.
You can start singing now – today is different.