“I don’t have a lot of talents,” my mother often said, “but people tell me I’m a good friend. I think that’s because I listen.”
“Mom, if you’re a good listener, you don’t need a lot of other talents,” I assured her.
We both laughed–and agreed there’s a terminal shortage of good listeners in our society. People like to talk–mostly about themselves, their ideas, their opinions, their problems. And they want someone to listen to them. Who will that be, however, if everyone else wants to talk too?
It could be you. Or me. If we choose to make it so. Listening was always a challenge for me. I got into trouble as a kid for talking in class. I had much to say at home around the table. And I loved to hang on the phone with friends until my parents gave me that look that said, “Get off the phone or else…”
It wasn’t until much later in my life that I realized that listening is an act of intimacy, a selfless act, because it includes being there for another person, and allowing him or her to share heart, mind, and spirit without commentary, advice, or point of view. It can also be a gift to one’s self. We might learn something of value from what the other has to say, though we rarely think of that ahead of time.
I remember a time when I was on the receiving end of this gift. And it came from an unexpected source–my parents–the very ones who raised their eyebrows at times when I rambled on and on as a child and teen.
On a Saturday I stopped by the nursing home where they lived. Both depended on others to help them with basic living tasks, to drive them to medical appointments, and to do small favors such as potting and watering the flowers on their terrace or playing a CD or tape of their favorite music, to help fill their long days.
I hurried into their room, all smiles, as I hugged and greeted them and began talking a mile a minute (as I’m known to do)! I was on my way home from a family camp where I had spent a week with my oldest daughter, her husband, and their five children. I had one story after another to share with my parents regarding the events of the week.
Their eyes were bright with interest. My father, who rarely smiled (one of the side effects of Parkinson’s Disease) was actually grinning as I related funny incidents involving his great-grandchildren. Mother squeezed my hand repeatedly and tears welled in her eyes as I reminisced about similar vacations we had enjoyed as a family when I was growing up.
What listeners they were. I felt as though I were the Queen of England holding court! The more they responded, the more I talked. Then suddenly I stopped and apologized. “I’m talking your ears off,” I said, laughing with embarrassment. “How about if we take a stroll outside? Dad, I’ll push you in the wheelchair and Mom can walk alongside. It’s a beautiful sunny day.”
My father raised his hand to stop me. “Oh no,” he said, “it’s such a treat to listen to you, I don’t want to waste a moment. Keep talking.” So I did–until I had to leave about half an hour later.
Here was a gift so lovely, I cried as I said good-bye. My father, bound to a wheelchair, unable to feed himself, and my mother, no longer able to speak due to a stroke, could still squeeze the moments they had with me. Sixty minutes or more squeezed to the last drop of laughter and love.
Every talker needs a good listener. My parents were certainly that for me on this special Saturday. I had set out to bring them a few moments of joy, and received in return, a heart full of happiness.