On Hearing Voices
There I was late at night working on my computer. I had posted some replies to several of my online students and was finishing proofing an essay that I had completed for my webpage. I was ready for bed. However, I heard something upstairs. No one was in the house, but I heard a voice talking. Initially, I wrote it off thinking that I had left the TV on. Therefore, I finished my proofing and sent it off to my web administrator. I checked my emails, turned off my computer, and headed to bed.
Nevertheless, I heard the voice again coming from what I call the Zhõngguó Fáng (中国房) or the China Room, which is actually just the guest bedroom. I went into the room, and no one was there. However, I had heard the voice coming from that room. Regardless, there was no one there; I even looked in the closet. I stood there bewildered for a moment. I thought to myself that perhaps I should have gone to bed a couple hours earlier since I was beginning to hear voices. Therefore, I was about to turn out the light and get some needed rest when I heard the voice again. It was then that I noticed that the speaker had an Asian accent, and the voice was coming from a piece of furniture, which was a Tibetan cabinet.
I love Tibet, which I have visited twice. The last time that I was there, I taught an American college class while I was in Lhasa. Having traveled the world over the past 50-years, I always pick-up souvenirs from places that I have been. Therefore, my house is filled with objects and pictures from overseas. These memorbia are constant reminders of places that I have been. However, until that night, none of them have talked to me.
Therefore, I sat down on the end of the bed and inquired of the old Tibetan cabinet what was going on. I talked with it for well over an hour. To my question about why the cabinet was talking to me now and not before, its retort was interesting. The cabinet said, "You wouldn't have heard me."
That reply was perplexing. If I were not capable of hearing it years ago, why would I hear it now? I have always loved this old Tibetan piece of furniture, but I could not comprehend it talking to me in fairly good English with an apparently Tibetan accent.
The cabinet again dismissed my reply as inconsequential. Then it asked me a question instead of answering my question. "Look at me. What do you see?"
I responded by saying that I saw an old, worn cabinet that was about 5-foot long, 3-foot high, and 18 inches deep. The cabinet asked again, "Is there anything else?" I said that I have always liked the weather-beaten look about it. The oldness gave it a greater character and authenticity, which I liked.
I meant that as a complement. I love having something that obviously has a long history connected to it. Most of all my treasures are old things. My comment seemed to flatter the cabinet a bit. However, after thanking me, it returned to asking questions, "Do you see anything else?"
I opened the two doors of the cabinet thinking there was something that I had overlooked over the years. That cabinet said, "You just missed it by opening the doors." Therefore, I closed the doors and waited. Finally, it asked, "What do you see on the doors?" I felt that the cabinet enjoyed its Socratic method of always asking questions.
Apparently, the cabinet wanted me to describe the matching paintings on the doors. I told him that the doors were mirror images of an old Tibetan man with a young child standing around what looked like a large bowl containing perhaps water. I admitted to the cabinet that I had not really taken much interest in the subject matter. However, looking at it that night, the two doors contained the same type of scene.
The cabinet became a bit less forceful in its comments. It said that I could not have really appreciated the paintings on the doors years ago. The next question was directed to me and not about the cabinet. It asked, "What has happened to you in the last handful of years?"
I discussed with the cabinet about dancing with death due to a fall off a ladder and prostate cancer. The cabinet seemed to know all about both events and was moderately sympathetic toward me. However, the cabinet was quick to push beyond the medical issues from which I have recovered.
My next response was that I have two young grandchildren, Jack and Owen who will celebrate their 5th and 3rd birthdays in less than a month. I talked about loving my adult children and my college-age granddaughter. However, Jack and Owen are different. I went into a long monologue about searching for all the reasons for my relationship with them.
I experienced a strange phenomenon first with Jack. I held him in the hospital just after he was born. From that day on, we were one. I tell Jack's parents, my kids, my granddaughter, and anyone else that will listen about my relationship with Jack over the past five years. Two years ago after Jack's birth, Owen arrived, which is a mirror of what I felt about Jack.
At this point in my monologue about the two being mirror experiences for me, the cabinet made a noise that soundedlike it was clearing its throat. I waited for a moment from continuing recounting about my love for the two boys. I waited. The cabinet waited. I know that it was not more than ten or fifteen seconds of silence, but while I waited, it seemed like several minutes of complete silence.
Finally, the cabinet broke the stillness with another question. Its question was more of a statement, which ended with a question. "And your relationship with Owen mirrors that of your relationship with Jack, right? I shrugged off the questions with a simple, "Yeah, it does."
Apparently, the cabinet was becoming a bit impatient with me and gave me another question. "Look at me; what do you see?" I looked again at my old Tibetan cabinet, and as I started to reply, it hit me. The two doors are mirrors of each other like Jack and Owen are mirrors of each other.
Then the cabinet made a declarative statement in the form of a question. "Do you see that you would not have been able to talk with me had it not been for Jack and Owen coming into your life?"
Before I could respond, the cabinet said, "It is late. Go to bed and get some rest. We will talk again. Good night." That was the end of my long chat with my Tibetan cabinet. I did go to bed and slept well the rest of the night as I thought about what I will learn the next time we talk.
If you are interested in other talking objects especially from China and Tibet, go to China Furniture located in Westmont, IL. I would strongly suggest asking for Lili. She is excellent and knows a great deal about Chinese furniture and artistic creations. Tell her that I sent you. Maybe you can find a talking object.
Visit the Talking with Objects page to read more about this topic.