First, listen

This week in my Building a Mindful Writing Practice class, we focused on listening in many different ways. Listening to ourselves, to our bodies, to those around us, to the world around us, to the words of writers (both living and dead) and to our own writing, spoken aloud.

As writers, our job is to pay attention. As writers, our job is to be in conversation with the world around us. The first part of that job is to listen. In doing so, connections are made, ideas come forth, and words come to the surface.

I asked my students to think back on their day and remember a sound, a noise, they encountered and then write about it. A couple wrote about the sounds of birds singing in the morning, welcoming the day.

I had a similar experience. For the past few days, I’d been hearing a distinct bird song. A song coming from one bird. It wasn’t the gossipy twittering of the house sparrows as they picked cherries off the tree in my backyard. This was a solo performance. The next time I heard the noise, I investigated and discovered the sound coming from a bird sitting alone on the fence that divides my yard from my neighbor’s. It was the mourning dove I’d noticed coming round lately. Sometimes, when I sat and meditated, I would spy this lone bird nestles in the weeping cherry blossom, looking at me. I watched closely waiting for it to open its mouth and belt it out, but it didn’t.

Later I looked up the sound of a mourning dove. As I played the YouTube video, I heard the mourning dove out back let out his song. I’d discovered my singer.

It is the male mourning dove that sings, it’s his “wooing” song to the female. They mate for life, or at least a long time. Here was this mourning dove, visiting my yard and singing his song. And I was listening.

Is there meaning in this bird appearing here and now to keep me company as I meditate, focusing on my breath, in the very room my husband took his last breath? I don’t know.

All I know is that I was listening. I heard him call out for his mate. He is alone and I am alone, and there is this connectivity. There is this idea that comes to me, these words I feel compelled to write. This comfort I take that I am not alone in my mourning. 




Here’s recording of the mourning dove’s coo.

4 thoughts on “First, listen

  1. Lloyd Casson August 29, 2018 / 6:54 pm



  2. Jackina Stark January 21, 2019 / 8:47 am

    I found you trying to read your Washington Post article about your husband cooking but now being gone. (My husband cooks a lot.) I didn’t find that article but enjoyed others including this one. Signed up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susan Barr-Toman January 21, 2019 / 2:05 pm

      Thanks, Jackina! I’ve posted the Washington Post essay on my website now. You can find it at the top of the sidebar. Enjoy that cooking; it really is a gift.


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