When our sage friend Professor Robert Thomas Llizo comes, Nessie (The Wonder Dog), often sits on the floor listening to adventures in academia. Translator, teacher, Llizo is the sort you call in summer only to discover he is in Tunisia, at a Russian Imperial Ball, or translating exorcism documents from centuries ago. If you wish to hear a poem read well, he is on call. Get him and my brother, the luminous Daniel Reynolds, in a room and the history discussions can become detailed.
She is hardly not-a-puppy, so when she looks at me with wondering in her eyes, I assume she is hoping to go outside and fetch the ball. To me, inescapably, she looks like she is thinking: “What in the world!” The discussion, hardly comprehensible to a puppy, is still marvelous to her floppy ears. Surely this is transferring my feelings to Nessie, yet still she is always there for these disquisitions often thumping her tail during the historic tales.
Soon she is be back in her central element chasing a ball, getting a bone treat, but she is happy at these times to sit, listen, enjoy a bone treat.
The older I get the more I wish to be like Nessie, at least as I imagine her life. Walt Disney taught me anthropomorphism, and after all, Disneyland began with a sassy mouse. I still cry when Bambi’s mother dies, and there are worse habits than listening to Mufasa. Hearing experts talk on things nearly beyond me is good: Daniel and Thomas have sent me off reading books, watching films, on so many topics! This is the human equivalent of fetch for the mind. They throw out a new idea, a period of history, and I go looking.
The best of social media is being taxed by hard conversations, thoughtful friends, and those who surpass me. First Nations? New England transcendentalism? Better versions of the moral argument? All of these things happen when I do not respond, but watch and listen. This is one reason I take each Lent to stop responding and (almost entirely) listen.
I find conversations that are interesting, that stretch me. The glories of really hard stuff in an area such as philosophy of mathematics or robust trinitarian theology is learning, having with the experts, but then knowing that like Nessie I can retreat to my own realm! The joy is that I will never be expert (at they are!) and can reflect, learn, and keep wondering. To be paid legitimately, one must usually be expert, hard work before work, while to listen and learn, one must only acknowledge ignorance and enjoy.
This is wonderful. The glory of really hard stuff, where we can only listen, is in the humility. We become like little children in the presence of experts.
Find something that is fascinating, that makes you look up to someone else saying: “What in the world?” I will following some fetch!