Thursday, April 3, 2014

What it means to Listen

I apologize for the length of this post straight away, but I felt this post needed some real explaining…

Growing up my mom used to read to my younger brother and I every night before we went to bed. We would read great stories like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Hatchet, Holes and countless other books that held great adventure stories. I remember being so excited to be transposed into another world, a world that wasn’t mine, and become immersed in the story of someone else’s life. As my mom was reading, even though it appeared I was just blankly staring at my ceiling my eyes were actually the projectors to the movie I was watching in my mind. 

I am sure that those nights shaped a lot of who I am now. Not only was my imagination developed every night, it was stretched… made to wander to far off lands with other great adventurers, my ears were trained to actively listen and my brain coached to attentively participate. And I still carry that mindset to most conversations that I have today.

Here in the Mahogany Lounge, we have a running joke about how often I get myself into intense conversations with people. To say it bluntly I ask a lot of questions. I thoroughly enjoy sitting and listening to people, mostly listening to their answers to questions I ask. Whether it is with perfect strangers, acquaintances or my best friends, I love it. I make friends with people I have no business getting to know personally and I ask questions I probably have no business asking. But I will be the blunt of their jokes pride-fully because I see a great value in listening to people’s stories. Getting people to talk about things that no one genuinely asks about. Somewhere in our language history we developed the question  “How are you?” and just as quickly we threw the meaning of it away… and since then it has become something robotic, with a robotic response. Essentially it is just another way of saying hello… like heaven forbid you tell me anything other than “good” or “fine”. But when I ask that question, I genuinely want to know the answer. Tell me the truth. We are not “good” every day. And I want to know why today is any different than yesterday.

I want to know the good, the bad, the insignificant, the normal, the beautiful and the ugly about people and I care to hear their stories. Because the truth is that we all have our story and it all happened one day… and maybe that day was yesterday, or today. I want to know the albatrosses we wear upon our chest, the rocks that sit in the rivers of our minds… the ones we usually keep guarded and don’t tell many people. Sometimes we don’t even tell those who are closest to us for fear of judgment or signs of weakness or something…. I am not entirely sure, I mean, you tell me… why do you keep your secrets hidden from people you are close to? Usually those details are shared with only one or two people. And this is where and why my imposing questions come as quite a shock to most people… and yet I find most people actually want and are willing to answer them…

Let me explain…Besides the fact that my legs swell up like sausages in airplanes, traveling is my favorite thing to do. I obviously love seeing the world and exploring new cultures, but in this particular instance, when I say “traveling” I literally mean the time I spend on an airplane, in a seat that is uncomfortable, breathing in recycled air and drinking canned mineral water. OK, obviously I don’t love all those things buttttt, what I love is that strangers are forced to invade each other’s personal space. We have all of these personal bubbles, spatial boundaries that we walk around in and we only let certain people into those bubbles. But, when we are traveling and on a plane (in particular) those boundaries become null. We are all uncomfortably shoved into a machine that is defying gravity and for some ironic reason that perfect alignment of uncomfortable factors creates an atmosphere to converse deeply with a complete stranger.

What I have found is that if you start a conversation with someone, ask simple questions like how he or she is, ask about their family, their friends, about their job they almost always tell you something personal that they want you to delve into deeper so that they may elaborate. To the inattentive or unobtrusive listener, that comment will be left there for wonder and remain untouched because almost always it is some subject that is touchy and will be hard to talk about. But I ask. I pry. I don’t know why… I just do. And by the end of the plane ride, without intending, I know personal, deep and heavy things about strangers that probably the majority of the people in their lives don’t know.

I have found that most people actually want to talk about their albatrosses, that they want someone to ask those questions and they want to be able to answer completely unbiased and unemotional. When I ask questions to people they don’t have to filter what comes out of their mouth because I know absolutely nothing about how they lead their lives daily and they will probably never see or talk to me ever again. We can both go our separate ways when the plane lands and what was said was said and that is that. And I leave with the lessons I learned from hearing their stories and they leave feeling free from some demon that has been festering in their minds for some time. 

The inspiration to this writing is coming from a few different places, all of which have lead me to a life lesson that I will get to by the end of this post….

The previous blog post, I am well aware, was annoyingly positive but I had to share because moments of that kind of happiness are not always found and when they are they are not often shared. The past few days I felt like I was living in a state of elation, like I had no cares in the world and I couldn’t keep my smile from emerging! You know…. Like days that I will actually remember as significant days in my life, and for no particular reason. And to confirm that feeling, yesterday I was standing in the kitchen with Keelin and we were not saying much, you know just hanging out and she said, “I feel so content right now. Like, I just had a moment where I am completely content.” I looked at her, the way she was just simply standing in the kitchen, our house was quiet, the sun was shining and I knew exactly what she was feeling…Like the truest, purest form of innocent and simple happiness. I was happy I shared it with her.

That moment was then compounded by a conversation I had a few mornings ago when I went to a coffee shop by myself and purposefully sat down at the biggest table so that people were forced to sit around me. A group of, I would say, 60+ year old’s sat down beside me and obviously we started talking. They helped me with the cross word, we talked about the weather, they told me about their weekend plans and their grand kids and I told them about the Seattle Reign and professional women’s soccer…and then we went our separate ways. But, at the end of the conversation when I got up to leave I put out my hand to shake theirs and say my goodbyes, and one of the women held my hand a little longer, looked me in the eyes and said, “thank you for talking with us, it was really lovely chatting with you.”  And I smiled and felt the same feeling I get when I say good bye to someone I just listened to for an entire plane ride and know I will never meet again.

And the last place I drew this inspiration from was from a piece of writing that I read just this morning when I was watching the sun rise over Lake Washington. I stumbled across a post about why the author of that particular post smiles so often. It delved into her story, the secrets she so desperately wants to tell people but holds back because of her fear of the way people would react upon hearing her story. I was so moved by the piece that by the end I had both tears rolling down my cheeks and a smile stretched across my lips. It was beautiful and heart wrenching and happy all in one. And as I sat there taking in what I had just read, I felt a surge of all of the emotions of the last few days hit me.

And I promised myself that I would keep asking these questions of people to seek sharing an innocent human moment with people and I would keep listening to people’s stories and more importantly I would keep telling my own. Because even if you have a hard time hearing something about someone because it might make you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean that everyone feels that way. Maybe they want to share a piece of themselves, maybe someone else needs to hear that there are other people who have lived through the tough time they are going through. Or maybe, it simply brings the meaning back to the question “How are you?”

And so my the lesson that I wish to share with you all in this long winded post is simple…

Ask genuinely.
Listen actively.
Respond attentively.

 That is all for now!


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for reminding me that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. As always, your words touch my heart.