Put down your compass
(2003's 'You got me. I'm listening.' will provide a good deal of insight into the literal meaning of this very figurative entry. For a day or so, I'll move it back to the front page of the site, since despite the large span of time between them, these two entries dovetail.)Fans of a radio show will set the clocks of their lives by the broadcasts they care about; they will turn up the volume and lean in close to the speaker, so as not to miss any of the words.
Me, I've listened to this radio show before.
The airwaves crackle with static. It's the sound of a faraway AM station bouncing over hills and trees to get to your ears. It's the sound I remember from my childhood years, the almost subsonic thrum and whistle of the faraway train coursing through Traskwood, a sound so faint that even the quietest of breathing or rustling of hair would make me question if I'd actually heard it at all…and then, that voice. Familiar, achingly so: the deep russet-polished contralto that sounds like every comforting voice you've ever heard, rolled up into one.
"Good evening, caller." In the background, before the audio switches away to the caller, the clink of spoon on china. Coffee's on. "You've got me. I'm listening." I put my ear next to the phone and my mouth comes within a breath of spilling it all, but the lump in my throat means that nothing comes. "Hello, Amy."
(In the end, we ache for nothing more than recognition.) "…Hello."
"I'd ask if you were supposed to be in bed, but we both know the answer to that."
"Two hours ago." In my hands, I hold a cup of tea. Its warmth strengthens me. I sip.
"It's funny to hear you silent like this, Amy. Usually, when you call, you're far more opinionated." A sip, a contemplative breath. "I think your usual tactic is to start off with something like 'I assume you've got a point and a reason for all this, and I'll eventually figure it out.'"
There it was, bald and clear and shining. "Yeah. That's what I keep hoping, because sometimes it's all I've got, and the only thought that can help make events make sense in my mind."
"Then hold to that." Silence, hung delicately from period to capital letter, served as emphasis. "It's quite a laundry list you've got."
It was something in the sentence—the acknowledgment of frustration, the acknowledgment of helplessness—that finally made the words come. "You're right. I don't understand. My grandmother falls and breaks her hip. My college roommate's parents lost their home to a tornado this Sunday and came out with little besides their lives and their health. One of my closest friends saw his mother sent off to prison, and another just learned today that his mother must have a bone marrow transplant. These are decent people. Good people. And …"
…and the words failed me.
"Sounds like there's a little more there. I'm listening."
The words burn; the tea is soothing and cold in comparison. "And. I. Can't. Help. I have no power and I have no words, and it isn't enough and I don't know what is."
"Caller, have you ever considered that maybe that's not your place?"
"If not me, then who?"
Laughter. "Now, I wouldn't want to sound presumptuous, but for someone whose thirtieth birthday is creeping up on her this year, you've still got lots of things to figure out."
"But what do I do?"
Another sip, another stir. "What you've always done."
"But I don't understand what that is."
She sighed. "You always were a challenge. You like things spelled out. Delineated. I keep hoping that someday, it'll really sink in for you that it's not a black-and-white business. I could give you a blueprint, but you'd lose sight of the endpoint while getting lost in the machinations of detail. The checklist you want isn't what you need. You have to try … and fly blind … and trust that it will be enough."
"It always comes back to that, doesn't it?"
"Someone, once upon a time, did write to me that faith is what you must rely on when the compass of reason fails you."
I sat. Thinking.
"Put down your compass, Amy."
* * * * *
Silence. In broadcast terms they call it dead air; here it would be an intentional, reflective silence, punctuated by the sound of coffee being slowly sipped. "We always seem to get those calls between three and six a.m. People don't always call in to get the answers; sometimes they call in just to get a bit of reassurance that they're still capable of finding the answers on their own.
"Normally, we'd need to take a break for station identification purposes, but we all know who we are and what we're listening to."
Silence again. In the background, a line is switched, a connection opened.
"A good night to you, caller. You got me. I'm listening."