Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Art of Listening

This photo shows how I feel: lonely
For years Hubby and I have had a running not-quite-joke. He will ask me, "Whose life story did you hear today?"

Most days I can reply that some total stranger poured out their heart to me, at the doctor's office, the grocery store, etc.  Long ago someone stenciled "sympathetic person" on my forehead, because I seem to attract people who need someone to LISTEN to them.

I often reply I should become a counselor and get paid to listen, but I realized that would never work. From my own recent experience talking to a grief counselor, I now recognize that my own desperate need to find someone who will listen to me makes me empathetic to those with the same need. I could never say at the end of a client's allotted time, "Okay, we'll continue this at your next scheduled appointment."

The need for a listening ear is closely tied to our need to be loved. For isn't the ability to put aside one's own needs in order to truly listen to another a tangible way to demonstrate love?

When I listen, truly listen to someone, I give them my undivided attention. I make direct eye contact, nod or make sure they know I'm still with them, and do NOT think about what I want to say when they pause, or what I need to do in the next hour when this conversation is finished. From what I've witnessed and experienced, this is a rare and precious gift.

Every time I go to a nursing home, I see listless lonely people who no longer feel loved or that anyone cares they are alive. But say "Hi," and ask (genuinely) how they're doing, and watch how their faces become animated. Often I'll be rewarded with a smile and a rambling, even incoherent response, but even that is a connection between one human and another, a vital connection, as vital as breathing.

During the last six weeks my life has been turned upside-down. In that short space of time, since we discovered my 86 year old father-in-law could no longer live alone, we have made the decision to sell our home, buy a bigger one, and combine two households. When I've tried to explain how living 65 miles away with Pop, taking care of him, giving up my regular routine and putting my writing on hold, all while trying to MOVE long distance, has exhausted and often overwhelmed me, I realized how rare is the gift of listening. I've been met with bored looks, glazed eyes, and interruptions to steer the conversation to what they want to tell ME. It has been quite revealing and discouraging.

But then Pop, who has been a virtual recluse for almost ten years, will eagerly tell me interesting stories of his childhood and his Air Force experiences, and I'm able to focus on showing how much I really do care by giving him my undivided attention. I can't change the world, but I can make a difference in the life of this one precious soul, just by practicing the fine art of listening.


  1. Hope is a powerful gift to give others! You are awesome!

    1. You are absolutely right; hope IS a powerful gift. But I am not awesome. Only He who is the source of hope can be so described. Thank you for your encouraging words. :)