Simon the Blind was blind, but Simon was not his name. In fact, no one knew his real name, or from where he came. He wandered without reason or purpose along the Great River that flowed from where the sun rises to where the sun sets, winding like rivers do, through vast forests and steppes, farm lands and towns.
Simon wore a long dusty coat and boots that were too big for him, a gift from someone who had nothing else to give. Though he was blind, he had an uncanny sense of where he was, and could walk in crowded markets and along rushing riverbanks with unfaltering step. As he walked, his head would turn ever so slightly, this way and that, to the sounds and silences of the world that journeyed with him.
Over time, people had come to know him, and found him warm and friendly, quiet when he spoke, and gentle of voice like the River in twilight. Especially the children gathered to him, following his slow sure steps through meadow and field, in sunbeams and rain. He had ways of soothing hurts, lifting fears from the heart, and healing blindness of the soul. This made some people pleased, and others uneasy.
The children seemed not to notice that Simon was blind, and frolicked around him as he wandered, asking all the questions children ask and adults can never answer. But Simon knew. He would say to them ‘just ask, and the answer will come like the dawn after night, and sun from the clouds’. Then, when one or two small faces looked up and said, ‘but I have asked!’ Simon would say, ‘but have you listened?’
‘All of God’s creatures, both the great and the small, have a voice. They call and sing in the Everywhere, but to hear it you must listen. Dear children, you know that just hearing something is not the same thing as listening. When you listen, you hear with your heart. Most people just hear sounds from things that make sounds, sometimes they even think that other people are just making sounds- that’s when they say, ‘I don’t understand a word you’re saying!’ They hear the words but are not listening.
The children sat down at the bank of the Great River asking Simon to tell them how to listen. ‘But children’ he said, ‘you’re already beginning to listen, questions are the Place where all answers live.’ The children sat very still. Simon knew the Questions of the Heart were very big, were so big that they could hurt, as though one was about to burst. So Simon said to the children, ‘close your eyes and listen- what do you hear?’
A young girl said, I hear the wind’, Simon asked, ‘what does it say’? ‘It says that it is coming and going’; ‘where to’ asked Simon, ‘to the Everywhere, she replied ’, and ‘from where has it come’ he asked- suddenly the girl’s eyes opened wide and she smiled, ‘from the Everywhere’, she replied, ‘because I am that which you can hear but cannot see- the breathing of all things!’
Then a little boy said excitedly ‘I hear a dog, its barking!’ ‘What is he saying’ asked Simon, the boy became very quiet, turned his head to the sound, ‘he wants someone to talk to and pet him, he’s sad and tied up all alone.’
Another said, ‘I hear birds beginning to sing a different song’. ‘What are they singing’ asked Simon, ‘they are singing about the sun going down, how quiet is coming all around, and how happy they are to be home in their nests.’
An older girl heard someone crying. ‘What do they cry’ asked Simon. ‘A long hurt that looks like night but fills the day, something too far to touch and too close to forget’, she said with tears filling her eyes.
Soon the children were talking eagerly about listening and all that they had heard. Simon sat still and smiled, his grey opaque eyes looking into a distance that no eye could ever see.
As the children listened more and more, their questions became harder and harder for the adults to answer. Parents, teachers, the mayor and the judge, in fact all but the poor, who lived at the edge of town near the Endless Marshes, began to suspect Simon of putting strange thoughts into their children’s heads. After much conversing in corners, drawing rooms, and church halls, the people decided to ask Simon what he had been telling the children.
That day, everyone gathered at the banks of the Great River and demanded to hear what Simon had to say for himself. But instead of answering, Simon spoke to them of listening.
‘Seeing must move from one thing to another and sees only the front and never the back. Those that see but do not listen, always dream of what lies beyond the horizon, and asks why heaven is lost in the deep of starry nights. Those who cannot hear but only see, flee from darkness as they do from questions they cannot answer, and attempt to clothe the invisible so that it can be seen and be made to serve them.’
‘Hearing brings everything near, the small creatures that rustle in the dust and the whipping of storm winds that bend the grasses on the steppe before ever it is close. No wall can stand between, nor corner hide what is beyond its turning. No voice of the outcast, the poor, or the broken, goes unheard by the heart, for their cry fills the near and far and the Beyond of every place. The mother sings life to the unborn, and her song is the first thing heard by the newborn. Life is first known by its song, later by its seeing’.
‘At night, when our eyes close for sleep, and we commend our souls into that which we know, but have never seen, we are led by a voice in the night that speaks and calls, sighs and prays.’
‘Dear ones, often when we feel the heart reaching for that which lies beyond seeing, we close our eyes and listen for the Voice. For the eye longs to see the proof of every promise, but the words of the promise speak of things the eye can never see, things the eye would never believe. Be then, like your children, just ask and listen, the answer will come like the dawn after night, and sun from the clouds’.
Some listened and heard. Others just saw Simon the Blind, in his long dusty coat and big boots.
Now the poor that lived on the edge of the Endless Marsh had not been invited by the people. But they had already heard that which was to hear, for they listened to the voice of all life living that sang over the Endless Marsh and through the Everywhere far beyond the Great River. And they carried its Song for others in their hearts, but no one ever noticed.
David Russell OFS, Fyn