Listen to the sparrow (or the sorrow)

To: The POTUS with the Most-us to Lose

This morning we did our usual Saturday dog-walk outing a couple of miles north of our house in an area we call Swale Land. On the way there we were at a stoplight and got to see a painted-up car driving east. It was super colorful and there was a lot going on so I’m not sure if the writing on the bottom of the driver’s door said “Listen to the Sparrow” (or “Sparrows”) or if it said “Listen to the Sorrow.” Given the cheerfulness of the paint colors, the words were almost certainly “Listen to the Sparrow,” but it’s been interesting mentally toggling back and forth between the ideas of listening to the sparrow and listening to the sorrow. I actually think they talk to each other rather nicely – at least in my head.

Have you ever listened to a song sparrow? If not, here’s a link to a short video of a song sparrow doing his thing (I’m pretty sure it’s a male bird): The bird alternates between letting loose beautiful little trills and digging around in his feathers like he’s looking for tiny bugs or has lots of itches. It’s very cute. And, amazingly there are 11 “thumbs downs” in response to the video – how can anyone grouse at a song sparrow?

Ok – assuming the car message is about listening to the sparrow or to sparrows, we can take it literally and look around for real sparrows, or if need be, find a handy recording of one to listen to, thereby enriching our quality of life through a nice hit of nature. Well, that is unless we’re one of those 11 people who seem to have something against sparrows.

On the other hand, we can maybe take the message to mean that it’s a good idea to listen to the little birds and what they’re trying to tell us about the need to take care of the earth and to keep cats indoors, kind of like canaries in coal mines, but quite a bit more poetic. And, it could be both – as in, if we actually (literally) listen to sparrows we’re more likely to appreciate them and want them to thrive so we’re more likely to preserve their habitat and limit the poisons (and cats) that could harm them. Got it? It’s not complicated. It’s apparently hard, but it’s really not complicated.

So what about the other side of the toggle — “Listen to the Sorrow”? Like I said, I don’t think the colorful car door really carried this message, but at this point it doesn’t matter. The idea of listening to “the sorrow” is firmly planted in my brain and I’m determined to share with you what the idea brings up for me.

Again, there’s the obvious take, which is that for someone who’s a clinical psychologist, listening to “the sorrow” is at the center of what I do most every time I meet with a client. Truly, a lot of people carry around a lot of sorrow, some of which they’re clear about and some of which is confusing and that can even be masked by anger. Consequently, I find that my job is often to simultaneously help them uncover and hold their sorrow, and then learn to be tender towards it, and themselves.

This individual (or dyadic) way of relating to sorrow seems to me like it could be usefully applied to us humans, generally, which is the less obvious take on the possible “Listen to the Sorrow” message my brain came up with. What if we had leaders who got (and cared) that most all of us are lugging around a lot of sorrow, who got that we are spent and that a lot of us are barely holding it together? What if they were able (and willing) to explain this sorrow to us, to empathize with us, and to give us some kind words to hold onto? That might help, I think. It wouldn’t eradicate the sorrow, to be sure. But just like love makes fear bearable, love also makes sorrow bearable.

Listening to the sparrow makes everything a bit more bearable too.

May we be safe to feel our feelings.
May we be willing to make space for sorrow and for sparrows.
May we vote in leaders who have the strength to empathize with us.
May we accept that we need each other to make it through.

Tracy Simpson

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