Hear Ol’ Man River While We’re Here

So we just got back from our trip up part of the Great River Road to La Crosse, Wisconsin. The Great River Road follows alongside the Mississippi River. What was most notable about it overall were the stories we heard from other people, all of them more or less travelers, if not on the Great River Road, then on the road of life. What we found in Riverside Park was particularly striking in this regard. It was a tall signpost with a puzzling sign, the meaning of which we could only guess at, really:

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The number at the bottom is an 800 line, which I dialed. We both had a hunch that the person on the recording was telling a little story about a small piece of his life experience on the very spot of earth we stood on. In fact, when I googled “Hear Here,” that was the purpose of these listening posts. They are scattered throughout La Crosse.

As a consulting psychiatrist, I listen to the stories of the patients I see every day. None are the same in every detail, each a unique tale of where they’ve been, who they’ve heard and who has heard them (or not!).

Even the city sidewalks told stories; well, poems anyway, which are stories after all, just very compressed and designed to be heard by souls, not just ears, using the least number of words possible.

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On the riverboat tour of the Mississippi River (Ol’ Man River), the tour guide told stories (and some really awful jokes as all such tour guides carry), the hotel employees told their stories, fascinating and sad: a Vietnam vet who was crippled by one bullet to the knee but who said it really didn’t hurt that much–although the 2nd one did, striking the very same spot on his knee; and who was very lucky when the land mine which sprung up only inches from his face turned out to be a dud…and he’ll retire in just a few days; a counselor in a group home for disruptive children who works 3 jobs; another guest and his wife who spoke frankly about their son who has a bit of trouble accepting the limitations of inflammatory bowel disease, the young bride just from her wedding in the beautiful  Riverside International Friendship Gardens, breathlessly telling us, “We just got married!”, the older couple on a park bench with their aging black labrador retriever who was very nervous at the sound of anything with wheels, even skateboards; all the countless stories buzzing all around us from passersby on the street, in the antique shops, on the river walk, on the boat tour–everywhere; everywhere we can hear.

Who would we be without our stories? What would we be? What does it take to hear each others’ stories…really hear them?

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