On listening

Photo cred: Lauren Michelle 

When I was 17, my Grandpa died just days before my 18th birthday.  The night he died I had been to the hospital but had left to be with my best friend.  Only five months earlier, I had watched my Grandma slowly leave us.  Her strained, labored, increasingly lifeless breaths were too fresh in my memory to watch someone else I loved deeply endure the same fate.  Selfish, maybe, I left the hospital to seek my own kind of comfort - the comfort of a best friend so she could be my side, 'cause I felt like I was losing life, too.  I hadn't been at my best friend's house for an hour when we got the call.

Oh, I'm so sorry, came from the other room.

I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, my best friend, cross-legged on her bed.  When "sorry" hit the phone, she almost reflexively joined me on the floor.  No words, no hugs, no trying to change the subject.  We just sat in silence and were.

This is one of my most distinct memories and biggest inspirations for when I need to work on listening and being (mentally) present.

We live in a world of first persons - I this, me that.  In conversation, we more often than not listen to respond.  The pause barely enters conversation before we jump in with our two cents, well yeah but I, my, etc...I'm as guilty as anyone especially when I'm in a conversation where I think I have the "upper hand."  You think you're tired?  I was up all night with my kid, and I'm here today! I want to say when someone without babies complains about being tired.

We want to be the hardest working, we want to prove our tank is less full, we want to have the bigger, showier story, that we've worked harder.

Advent is almost over, but throughout this Advent season I've focused on trying not to get my "cents" in there when unnecessary.  As Advent is a time of preparing our homes and hearts, it's a time for preparing ourselves for the birth of Christ.  And a way to tangibly do so is to grow in virtue.  Growing in virtue is painful.  Throughout the course of these weeks, I've had a broken record of please stop talking, Oh - I left your reward in the car, and get over it playing in my head.  I've pushed back from my computer and taken a deep breath before continuing with an email.  I've wanted to run in the middle of the street and yell, honestly, people?  But on the positive side, I've asked more questions. I've redirected conversations back to the person I was talking with in an effort to avoid I.  I've begun to train myself to enjoy listening to hear, really hear what a person is telling me.  

None of us do that enough or as well as we should.

This is the last week of Advent.  I'd give myself a solid B in this one effort I've put forward over these weeks.  I could have done better.  I could have done much worse.  But at the very least, I've gained another "mental flag" for myself.  Going into conversation, I've learned to remember all people want is to be heard, to be empathized with, to feel valued.  I've tried to emulate that silent, listening, present friend who sat next to me almost 10 years ago.  She made me feel heard without saying a word.  As Advent comes to an end and Christmas begins, I'll go into the new year aiming more to hear and not to respond.


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