Listening


“We tried that [to explain our sense of God] a long time ago; our people spoke to the Anglos and told them what we think, but they don’t listen to hear US, they listen to hear THEMSELVES.” (a 10yr old Hopi girl, quoted by Robert Coles in The Spiritual Life of Children)

I spend a lot of time listening to people in my profession. I listen for things that are said, and for things that are not said, by patients, their family members, and others involved in anyway with the care of the dying. I am taught to listen without judgement, to accept people in the moment- knowing that what I see is but a snapshot in time. In the challenge to nurse holistically, I am reminded that sometimes all I have to offer is my presense- no fast answers, no quick fixes. I wonder if it is possible to approach the painful juxtapositions in my life in the same manner. Grateful for any kind of listening ear- I am sensitized to just how important a warm, accepting, and unconditionally loving friendship can be. Because it is only that kind of friendship that fosters the safety required for a person to become transparent. Who in their right mind is going to bare the pain in their heart to one who will only turn around and tell them ‘you only have yourself to blame…it is all in your mind…your thinking is wrong….you are wrong..if you only did ‘this’ or ‘that’, or YOU need to do all the changing….”? In that kind of situation, it is best to keep pain carefully packaged and hidden away- unwitnessed and unacknowledged, rather than risk its discovery and trivialization. Perhaps that is why at the end of life, the ‘total pain picture’ can be so agonizing to watch. If it were possible to narcotize the soul, we wouldn’t need the ministry of the clergy. All too often we ask others to run marathons on broken legs- and then berate them for their poor performance. The act of true listening is a miracle. Not the kind of listening where one spends one’s silence thinking up rebuttals- but the kind of listening that truly tries to feel what is in the heart and soul of another- and recognizes in its reflection the very image of God. This is the kind of listening that sets another place at the table of life, and invites as family the dusty, different, smelly, and unattractive stranger. It says- ‘you are important, your heart is important, your pain is important- just because it is’. To exist is plunge headlong into the full spectrum of light and darkness, teasing out the colors along the way, and applying them to the unique canvas given to us at birth.

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