Monday, January 12, 2015

Can you hear me now?

Amelia Island; Fl

"When people talk, listen completely.  Most people never listen."  -  Leo Buscaglia

"I remind myself every morning; Nothing I say this day will teach me anything.  So, if I am going to learn, it must be by listening.  -  Larry King

     Sometimes on the road I attend various functions and meetings I see advertised.  One such I attended was a men’s meeting at a church in South Carolina.

     The meeting was a small group of locals – the same group of men who have met at the same spot for many years.  One of the men spoke for a good while – he went into great detail about how his wife had died a year and a half ago, how she had been the best thing that had ever happened to him.  The other men seemed to zone out a bit – it was apparent that this was the same thing this man had shared many times.  But the man’s last two sentences gave me pause.  He said that he now cared for their son, who is 37 years old and has cerebral palsy.  And he shared that he was completely stuck – besides getting out for church functions all he could bring himself to do was drive to fast food restaurants a few times a day.

     He said these things quickly in conclusion, with both eyes and voice lowered.  Immediately someone else jumped in and started sharing, and I too might have missed what the man said had I not noticed him wipe away a tear.  I also realized that no one else in the room had really heard what he said – his shame was keeping him from speaking up and asking for help.  After the meeting I asked one of the other fellows if he was ok.  Yeah, I was told, he just hadn’t gotten over his wife dying yet.

      So I went to the fellow and started talking to him.  For a while he bragged on his wife – how good of a woman she had been.  I asked him about the fast food thing, and he went into detail about how good of a cook his wife had been.  After another few minutes, I asked him again, and he admitted that for the last year and a half it was all he could bring himself to do – he had not cooked a thing and he was ashamed because of how well his wife had fed them for so many years.

      I asked about the state of his kitchen, and he said he hadn’t touched anything that had been in the fridge or the freezer for all that time.  I offered to come over and help him clean it out, and after a moment’s hesitation, he agreed.  The next morning we took two full trash bags of spoiled food out of his kitchen and straight to the dump.  We also packed away all of the cooking utensils that he wouldn’t use – the cabinets and drawers were jammed with all manner of items.   Later, one of the fellows from the men’s meeting who happens to be a chef came by and took us to the grocery store.  He helped the fellow pick out foods that he could and would cook, and soon thereafter the fridge and freezer were stocked.  Since this time I have gotten numerous phone calls from this older man thanking me – he claims he was absolutely stuck and for some reason his mental freeze centered upon cooking.  It really wasn’t a big deal – I spent a couple of hours and made a few new friends – I was happy to do it.

     But it makes me wonder – how often in the past have people asked for help and I missed it?  When I am around the same people all the time, how often do I train myself to tune them out to the extent that I cannot hear what they are really saying?  How often do I start my own mental dialogue and completely shut out what others are saying, satisfying myself with my own “story” about what their “problem” is?  I have since paid more attention, and it is surprising how often, even around strangers, that I “assume” I know what a person is going to say and tune them out while still pretending to listen.

     The whole thing worked out – the chef happened to know a guy who could get me onto a private island that I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten onto.  And I have a few good friends I wouldn’t otherwise have.  All because for a moment or two I was somehow able to listen and observe rather than watch the tired old new-reel that goes on in my head.

Today, may I listen.

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