Learning to Listen

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Cousins, and s’mores.

Between my friend’s funeral in April and our trip to my friend Cat’s wedding in May, I’ve seen quite a few long-time friends recently.  What a blessing.

At a pre-funeral brunch, I introduced myself to a friend from twenty years ago. I hadn’t recognized him, probably because of his new-to-me beard. (And because I hadn’t thought to see him there. And because it’s his voice, more than his face, that I think of when I think of him.)

There he was in our small circle, and I held out my hand and said, “I’m Annie,” feeling bad that he was left out of the conversation.  The moment he started to laugh at me, I knew who he was, and I laughed, too.  We all spent much of that weekend laughing at ourselves, which was a perfect reflection of and memorial to our friend Jerry’s humor.

Anyway, at brunch Dave and I dove almost immediately into the hard times of the past ten years: my malpractice trial, his parents’ illness and death. What makes those kinds of conversations possible?  Is it inherent in the nature of a particular person—someone who never bothers with small talk, but always gets to the heart-matter?  Was it a result of the funerary setting?

Or is that kind of conversation a skill?  A habit?  I saw another long-time friend recently, and as soon as the children were tucked away together playing, we submerged ourselves in the deep stuff. I am grateful for her, and for her challenge to be real.

My niece (17) and nephew (16), whom we saw on our trip, spent several hours with us just talking.  It was delightful.  They asked us good questions, and listened intently to our answers.  We had a chance to ask them real questions, too, and to listen intently to them.  I can see a day ahead where we will interact as adults, with real give-and-take.  I hope my children learn this skill. We’re not there yet, though I see glimpses of the possibilities ahead.

I feel convicted that I’m not listening to my kids as well as I could.  My listening is half-hearted, as I save back part of my attention for whatever is in front of me, whether it’s dinner on the stove or the novel clanking around in my mind.  I doubt that that kind of listening is going to promote a habit of deep conversation.  Would you pray for me, that I can choose to listen to my children like I listen to my friends?

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6 thoughts on “Learning to Listen

  1. I will pray for you dear friend. Know that your listening has meant the world to me and my gong clanging over the years. I believe you have the innate skill of making people feel fully heard whether or not you are fully present and I mean that in the best possible way. (That sentence was longer than I meant for it to be, alas I’m no writer). You just have a knack for meeting people where they are at whilst challenging and looking up and out to the eternal perspective in a compassionate collaborative kinda way. That is one of the reasons why I love you so. Surely the way that you are with us common people is also true of how you are with your beloved children.

  2. T’was so good to spend time together, listening. And I think I hear the kids, warp-speeding their way into adult years. Or maybe that was just the crackling of another charcoal marshmallow. Either way, thanks for the encouragement to live right here, in this glorious moment.

  3. I was extrememly blessed to have such great listeners around me this past weekend.You and your family are a gift and I appreciate the time you spent listening to me and my children. Your children are blessed to have a mom who I feel already is a great listener but wants to do better 🙂

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