Discover more from The Inside Edge
The Silence Between the Notes
Two episodes of wordlessness elevate a special time with my father-in-law
Over the course of 7 1/2 hours Monday, my father-in-law and I spoke thousands upon thousands of words to one another. If words were steps, we each might have run a marathon.
Nobody who knows either one of us – and particularly us when we are together – would be the least bit surprised to learn that we were a couple of chatterboxes. Tim McCarthy has never been accused of being a man of few words, and I enjoy asking questions.
Thanks for reading The Inside Edge! Subscribe for free to receive new posts every Wednesday and Sunday morning.
It was a perfect storm, whipped up on a mild spring day in Stoughton, Wisconsin.
Tim has a rather strong interest in other human beings, too. He got me waxing at length. We reminisced, exchanged quips, covered various family topics, spiritual stuff, and facets of his medical appointment that was the centerpiece of my visit.
But my most poignant take-away from our time together echoes a declaration by 18th century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:
'The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.”
News flash: Tim McCarthy and Matt Baron can actually be silent together.
So many of my waking moments are dedicated to the consumption or creation of stories. It can feel productive; sometimes, it actually is fruitful. Too often, though, it’s an escape from being still with myself. There is power and peace in being silent and simply taking in what’s going around me. It creates space for thought, to hear from God, to take a few moments away from checking off boxes on my to-do list.
And, as Tim told me early in our trip to the Madison VA Hospital, he had five distinct items to make sure we got done. Aside from Tim learning everyone’s name — staffers by the name of Andrew, Jackie, Riley, Marie, Lena and Lynn among them — we were on a mission.
Look at us, a couple of highly conversational doers. Never a dull moment.
But things took a turn when Tim got his blood pressure checked. The number was higher than he (or Marie, his nurse) liked. Time for a do-over. Shortly after Marie left the room, Tim dropped this bombshell: “I need quiet, please.”
In the one-third of a century that I have known him, I had never heard those words flow from his lips. It caught me off guard, but I managed to keep my mouth shut behind the mask furnished by the front desk. I closed my eyes and it wasn’t long before I found myself drifting off a bit. Memories of kindergarten naps popped in my head, then I snuck a glance at Tim.
His eyes were closed, along with his mouth – which I could see, since he had turned his mask into a chin strap.
After what felt like three minutes – but which Tim said was longer – Marie re-entered. This time, his blood pressure reading was 17 points lower, trending in a good direction. If they had taken my blood pressure, I bet it would have been well below my norm, too.
We went back to our talkative ways, but the precedent had been set, the axis of our shared universe had tilted ever so slightly and ever so surely.
A few hours later, only minutes before I began the two-hour drive back home, we were on the topic of Cat Stevens’ Morning Has Broken and how Tim used to sing it all the time to his children, including my wife. The youngest of his three daughters, Brittny, is now singing the tune to her 3-year-old daughter, Liv.
“I don’t know if you know that song,” Tim said.
Not only am I a big fan of the song, I replied, but I chose it to conclude the small memorial service my family held for my mom 18 months ago. She, too, loved that song, and every time I hear it now, Mom is bound up in my thoughts.
I asked Tim to sing it, but he declined – at 84, he’s not nearly the singer he once was, he explained. “I don’t think I know all the words anymore,” he added.
I summoned the song on my phone and began playing Stevens’ version. The words streamed along. I handed Tim the phone so he could get reacquainted with the verses. We listened awhile in that shared-silence fashion that we had nurtured earlier in the afternoon.
Toward the end of the song, Tim joined in with Cat -- softly, scratchily and sweetly.
I had the good sense to close my eyes and just listen.
Thanks for reading The Inside Edge! Subscribe for free to receive posts every Wednesday and Saturday morning.
Happy 75th Birthday, Carlos May
Wrapping up briefly with sports trivia material that you might not yet have come across: today is the three-quarters of a century mark for former Chicago White Sox slugger Carlos May.
He is the only man in Major League Baseball history whose uniform displayed his birthday. Happy 75th, Carlos!