An Illustrated Ode to Attentiveness and the Art of Listening as a Wellspring of Self-Understanding, Empathy for Others, and Reverence for the Loveliness of Life
A sweet serenade to our shared belonging.
By Maria Popova
“To see takes time, like to have a friend takes time,” Georgia O’Keeffe wrote as she contemplated the art of seeing. To listen takes time, too — to learn to hear and befriend the world within and the world without, to attend to the quiet voice of life and heart alike. “If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could do nothing,” Pablo Neruda wrote in his gorgeous ode to quietude, “perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves.”
This inspiriting, sanctifying power of listening is what writer Holly M. McGhee and illustrator Pascal Lemaître explore in the simply titled, sweetly unfolding Listen (public library) — a serenade to the heart-expanding, life-enriching, world-ennobling art of attentiveness as a wellspring of self-understanding, of empathy for others, of reverence for the loveliness of life, evocative of philosopher Simone Weil’s memorable assertion that “attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer.”
Lemaître — who has previously illustrated the children’s book about kindness Toni Morrison co-wrote with her own son — brings McGhee’s buoyant words to life in his spare, infinitely tender lines and gentle washes of color.
to the sound of your feet —
the sound of all of us
and the sound of me.
The stars —
they are for you
and all of us.
They are for me.
The simple verses beckon the attention to envelop the whole world, from the immediacy of one’s own sensorial surroundings — the ground, the Sun, the air, the stars — to the widening awareness of our shared belonging and our intertwined fates. Radiating from them is Einstein’s notion of “widening circles of compassion” and Dr. King’s immortal insistence that “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.”
Smell the air.
My air is yours and all of ours,
your air is mine.
Your heart can hold everything.
Including the world —
its darkness and its light.
Including your story,
including my story —
including the story
of all of us…
Complement Listen with The Sound of Silence — a kindred serenade to the art of listening to your inner voice amid the ceaseless noise of modern life — and Goodnight Moon author Margaret Wise Brown’s forgotten vintage gem The Quiet Noisy Book, then revisit the great humanistic philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm’s six rules of listening and unselfish understanding and composer Leonard Bernstein on why paying attention is a countercultural act of courage and resistance.
Published September 19, 2019