"I love your name," she said, reading Blessing's name tag. "My Daddy named me Joy. He was such a loving, wonderful man. The best Daddy in the world. I miss him so much." Her eyes filled with tears at the memory of warm connection and loss of that special love.
Blessing stopped, looked at the woman and smiled. "Thank you," she said quietly. "What a great way to grow up -- with a Daddy who loved you so much."
The elderly woman smiled, so pleased to be heard. "He was the best. Thank you, Blessing."
There was a little eye-rolling in the line behind this misty-eyed elderly woman, but I was glad that Blessing took a moment to listen and to respond to this woman's story. And it occurred to me that there are so many stories, so many people yearning to be heard. I hear and see them so much around here.
There is a man in his early seventies, still working due to financial necessity, who worries constantly about his health and how long he will be able to carry on. Some people edge away when they see him, unable or unwilling to stop and linger a bit to hear his latest health-related ruminations. But I've noticed that if someone takes the time and cares enough to listen, his shoulders relax visibly and his mood lightens. And he has such sweetness and gentle humor to share.
A group of women in difficult marriages -- one with a man who is allergic to any kind of housework, another who insists on making all decisions without listening to input from his wife, another whose husband is totally addicted to golf -- get together occasionally at a local cafe to laugh at the realities of their lives. None is considering divorce. None has any particular notion of changing their long-time marriages at this point. But exchanging stories, revisiting positive aspects of their marriages with beloved, if occasionally difficult, spouses and laughing the afternoon away does wonders for their spirits.
A woman whose husband divorced her immediately after they bought what she thought would be simply a part-time vacation home here has recently started wanting to connect with others -- after a long period of mourning the end of her twenty-five year marriage. Her neediness is palpable as she talks with anyone who will stand still about the pain of this transition and her hopes for the future. But if someone stops to listen, one discovers that she is quite delightful -- with a quirky sense of humor and a good amount of courage.
A woman who has never married and is content with her solitude most of the time nevertheless spends Sundays at the local McDonald's -- reading a novel between greeting friends and acquaintances who happen to stop by for a quick Sunday breakfast. "It's just nice to get out and visit with people -- for long conversations and short ones," she said not long ago. "It's just fun to swap stories."
We all have a need to tell our stories, to be heard, to be noticed. Especially for those who are cloaked in the relative invisibility of older age, slowing down in a speeding up world, being heard is such a gift.
What does it take -- especially at this time of life -- to slow down and listen to another?
What does it take to truly hear and understand the life stories of others?
There is so much we can learn from shared stories and feelings and experiences. When we stop and listen, it may seem, initially, that we're being kind and giving attention and encouragement to another. However, when we listen with our hearts and with open minds, we often gain so much more than we give -- with new perspectives, insights and lessons in survival, courage and love.