I Hear Leaf Blowers: A Reflection on Deep Listening – October 2020

From Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael, Senior Co-Minister

No really, as I am writing this article, all I can hear is leaf blowers. There is one a good two blocks west and another just east. I have gotten to the place in my meditations where I can listen through most challenging noises, to hear a stillness beyond, but leaf blowers  are different. They pose a hurdle that, for me, is as much metaphorical as auditory. 

Since moving to Montclair, I’ve heard, read, and seen countless protests against the use of leaf blowers – so much so, that I have reached the stage of amazement that they have yet to be banned. I wholly understand the difficult relationship between environmental strategies and economic realities, as well as the challenge of regulating the private sector with a public ordinance (especially with respect to preserving employment for private citizens.) I’m not confused by the challenge – but amazed, truly amazed that there can be such a public outcry, without any public effect. 

Perhaps when I hear the leaf blowers I hear the incredible challenge that is justice work today, a challenge that requires us to daily arise and engage the struggle, knowing that the change we seek may be for our great grandchildren to witness. The Hebrew Scriptures announce in Exodus that Moses, as a conduit of the holy, freed the Israelite slaves from Egypt, but himself, never entered the promise land. 

It is time I started hearing the leaf blowers as the clarion call of conscience and the sound of a shared struggle for environmental justice that I am blessed to be a part of. It is time I started hearing the anguish and outcry of Black Lives Matter as the song of a people, and a shared struggle for racial justice. This is what I call deep listening – and it may be what we need to do to keep living our call amidst a world that shows us daily, the distance between ourselves and the promised land we are seeking. It is the poet Jallal Al Din Rumi who said: “The soul has been given its own ears to hear things the mind does not understand.”

May it be so.