by Trevor Scott Barton
The great thinker and doer Rabbi Abraham Heschel once said, “I asked for wonder.”
When I open my eyes to each new day, I ask for it, too.
Maybe that’s the one word that describes me best – “wonderer.”
I am a wonderer indeed.
On my drive through West Greenville to school, I see a smokestack from an old dilapidated mill with a tree growing out of the top of it.
In my work each day at my Title I elementary school, I hear the stories of the lives and from the hearts of students.
In the evening, I feel the warmth of the setting sun on my face.
At night, I smell the smell of homemade bread in the oven.
So, as I sit in my still, silent classroom at the end of this day of public school, I am wondering: What would it be like to be able to talk to a blue whale?
2 Things I Know About Blue Whales
- Their hearts are as big as a Volkswagen Beetle. They have the biggest hearts of any living thing on Earth.
- Their ears are the size of the points of pencils, yet they sing to each other and hear each others’ songs over many, many, many miles.
Have you heard of the children’s book “Amos and Boris” by William Steig?
It’s a beautiful story about an unlikely friendship between a mouse named Amos and a whale named Boris.
So much of life is learning what it means to be simply human.
This story helps us think about that question.
It helps us think about other important questions, too.
How we can build community?
How do the seemingly smallest and least important parts of ourselves make the biggest and most important differences in the world around us?
How is it that the seemingly smallest and least important people around us are the ones who most help the world?
One question I would ask a blue whale, if I could summon it from the depths of the ocean, would be, “Is it your giant hearts that make your kind the most peaceful and intelligent creatures on Earth?”
I often wonder about the link between the heart and kindness and intelligence.
“Cogit ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”), said René Descartes, and we live in a time where the sum of all of life is the mind, the value of all of life is the nuance of thought and argument.
It is the ability to be right.
But what of “Sentimus ergo sumus” (“We feel, therefore we are”)?
Maybe the sum of all of life is really empathy, the practice of placing ourselves in the shoes of others and walking around in those shoes until we can feel life as they feel it.
“If we value the growth of our hearts most of all, could we be more like you?” I would ask my giant, gentle friend.
Another question I would ask would be, “Is it the way you sing your song that helps you be heard, or is it the way you listen that helps you understand, even over unfathomable distances?”
I also often wonder about the link between talking and listening, about being understood and understanding.
“Listening is an act of love,” teaches David Isay within his StoryCorps project.
Yet we live in a time that values talking most of all, that values the number and volume of words over all things.
But what of hearing over the long distances (and how unfathomable those distances!) of race or gender or sexual orientation or class or country or political persuasion or educational level or culture?
Is the most important value listening, the practice of using the ears of our hearts, until we can understand others for what they are trying to say and for who they really are?
“If we value listening most of all, could we be more like you?” I would ask my giant, humble friend.
Today, I am standing at the edge of the sea, feeling the mist on my face, tasting the salt on my lips, smelling the world as Hemingway wrote it in “The Old Man and the Sea,” hearing the breaking of the waves, seeing a blue whale swimming toward me, a smile and an inquisitive look on its face, asking, “What are your questions, my little friend?”