What happened when I was busy making other plans.

An Act of Love and Friendship

As you can gather from what I’ve been writing about, these past two years have been extraordinary. It’s as if somewhere in the middle of 2008, the big, red curtain on my life’s Act One scurried to its close. Then, a short time later,  Act Two trumpeted in; the curtains brushed open to an entirely new setting. Our main characters were the same, though one was relegated to the wings; and new characters emerged, their importance to be revealed.

It’s been high drama ever since, not fully by my own design. Several key plot points later, I reflect on what I’ve been offered that I have appreciated the most: the gift of listening.

My senior-year high school English teacher, the fabulous Mr. Franke, used to go around the classroom asking difficult, sometimes impossible questions about whatever we were reading–King Lear, The Bible, or one of the Greek tragedies, perhaps. No one wanted to be wrong, lest they get a zero for class participation that day. So most kids–even our top-ranked students–would just reply, “I don’t know, Mr. Franke.”  Since I clearly was not going to be the class valedictorian, I figured, “Aw, hell! May as well try.” When he called on me, I’d offer something, anything; occasionally I’d hit on something that would garner an approving nod. But more often than not, he would hear me out, then deadpan (with a bemused smirk), “OK, I think I’ve heard enough psycho-babble for the day” and move onto someone else.

I’ve been doing more than my share of psycho-babbling these past few years. And while I think there’s meaning there (on most days), it is high time to say “thank you” for your ears and your attention.

Really listening to someone–without feeling the need to interject, offer comparisons to your own life, or solve the problem–seems to be an increasingly rare skill today. But it’s a beautiful act and one I think about a lot and try to emulate.

In the days of Jane Austen, the art of conversation was revered. But in the world of tweets and gadgets, fully engaging yourself in doing just one thing is almost unusual. Listening with your whole self requires empathy, patience, and self-control. But when you really take someone in, let them tell their story, and offer comfort by focusing on what they’re saying, it is one of the most generous things you can do. Without saying anything, you are showing them that they are important, that what they have to say matters and that they’re worthy of your time. It is, quite simply, an act of love.

So it’s the holiday season, and a good time to reflect on all of the generosities that have come my way. And given these high drama years, what I’m probably most grateful for are the friends and family who have been there, allowing me to vent, sometimes just psycho-babble, sometimes more, offering advice when needed, but often just listening. More than anything, thanks for that. I look forward to continuing to share the Second Act with you.


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