Friday, August 30, 2013

Needing to Be Heard

One of my favorite young Safeway checkers, whose name is Blessing, was hard at work yesterday, with a growing checkout line, her hands in perpetual motion as she scanned a fragile, very elderly woman's weekly groceries. As Blessing scanned, the woman began a wistful monologue.

"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.


  1. This is a symphony to my heart. I love stories and the people behind them. I was so touched reading this post and by your acts of love in listening and sharing.

  2. This is a beautiful post ... one of the many reasons I enjoy volunteer work in memory care ~ there are still stories to be told.

  3. We might have a healthier senior population if society slows down and listens. One of the benefits of a small town is this feeling that your neighbors are there for you, want to know and offer assistance, appreciate and are willing to share stories and strategies. If only more towns were like this one.

  4. Hi There, YES---we all do love to tell our stories --and we LOVE for others to be interested and listen. The first part is easier than the 2nd part. People today don't seem to be interested, or can or will take the time. I had a woman friend tell me that she doesn't like to hear any 'drama' .... I didn't respond to that but I thought to myself that we ALL have drama in our lives and sometimes it is good to be able to talk about it... This goes for bloggers also. Some just post nothing about themselves or their lives --but prefer to stay anonymous, and keep their blogs simple with little or no meaning. I personally love to go to blogs like this one where I can 'think' and express myself in interesting ways. Yes---that may be 'drama' --but it's LIFE.... Great post.

  5. I'm 45 and I've always loved listening to the older people tell their stories from way back when I was a kid. You can learn a great deal from them if you just listen. I just wish I could remember more of those stories! lol I was too young and didn't have the forethought to write any of them down.

  6. I always loved old people but today the young are not so nice
    Some generations carry the old and carry the young and get dumped in the dumpster when they can't do it anymore.
    I can never get over the shock of the rudeness on the roads even in funeral processions. There is just no respect anymore.
    We used to stand up in the bus for old people. Today they run to take the seat from under them because they take too long to turn to
    But old people have so much to offer. Life experience, history, time for friendship,babysitting a kind ear and yes God. God is closer to them as they have time for him now and can stop to see the world better and the need out there for God.You see it much better as you age and slow down how important it is to have balance.

  7. Wonderful post and Blessing certainly lived up to her name. The few minutes to listen will not alter our lives one bit but will brighten the lives of the speaker.
    I had an aunt that all the family avoided her phone calls for she always seemed to be dying of "something." The standing joke was to never ask her how she was doing. To their relief, she would always ask to speak to me. My first words were, "How ya doing." She would tell me, I would listen and question. Amazingly, she and I would soon be laughing about something and all gloom would fade. She had a delightful sense of humor but few ever found out for they were so turned off by her first pleas for attention.
    Thanks for the reminder, I may post about Aunt Pearl in the future.

  8. My brother in law is mostly a recluse, he lost the love of his life in july 2003, he lost his mom my husband mom in December 2000...He thinks he is gonna do a lot he doesn't do at all..He finally got his ptsd money they withheld at the VA for nearly 35 years and his partner was gone from his life, he is not bitter, but only me and my hubs listen to him..We see him now he was estranged for nearly 25 years then we knew of his wife for all pratical purposes dying..we connected and let him see us and speak to us, it is shameful his siblings many at that don't do one damn thing for him or listen to him, he acted like a recluse cause his partner had MD and they liked to live alone from each family, thinking they were the black sheeps of both families NOT..I have tried to spoil him with my husband it is one of his youngest in 8 kids living family, after his Mom died December 2000 he was even more removed.I e-mail a lot, call and try to see him both of us...He needs to talk and talk,no one seems to listen to him and with ptsd and many health ailments he is not doing too good..Why can't the human race see human contact is absolutely needed as one ages, it makes a person who is on the earth feel needed and loved??? I don't undertand people today they e-mail everything, never wanting to speak in person, have cell phones ringing off the hook talk like everyone on the phone is hard of hearing, oyh veh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Manners are gone too, I give gifts to people and never ever get a thank you written it must be a long lost art, I stopped doing that gift thing years ago, since people have lost their manners and their compassion for human beings!~

  9. Everyone needs to be heard. That is one reason I love to mediate. Once people are heard they are able to listen themselves and maybe to find a mutual solution.

  10. This is a truth I experienced over and over again during my parish ministry, Kathy. I spent countless hours on pastoral visits just listening to people, mostly older, but not always. Even as a child I loved the company of older people, so this was never a burden or a duty but a truly rewarding experience.

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  12. Nice post; engaging responses. All I can add is . . . not only all that, but older people have lived the most, and so they have the best stories!

  13. You are so right! I am so impressed with Blessing. She is that: a blessing. so few listen to anyone any more. It seems that all are caught up in mobile devices. Children need to be heard. Older folks need to be heard. We all need to be heard. Great post.

  14. You are such a kind and wise lady, Kathy.

    My first impulse on meeting somebody ‘needy’ is always to smile graciously and move on.
    I am not the kind of person who unburdens herself easily face to face, and I half expect others to be like me.

    But, of course, they are not. We are all different, and a bit of friendly listening does no one any harm. We are all lonely at times and need the warmth of human interaction.

    Maybe I shall have to be a little more patient myself. The problem is that people will repeat their tales over and over again, at each meeting; talking about a problem is all they seem to want to do, without ever getting to the root of it and doing something to change the status quo.

    I probably would make a very bad psychoanalyst or -therapist.

  15. Dear Kathy, the last paragraph of your posting brought back to me the story of the fox and the Little Prince in the classic book written by Saint Exupery in the 1940s. The specific words I thought of were "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

    I was reminded also that the fox helped the Little Prince know that meeting a friend at a certain plain at a certain time each day and simply being there and listening was what brought contentment and meaning into life.

    It was, I think, the fox who taught me how to listen and I've learned through the years to be grateful for what people share with me when I listen and what I feel as I watch them relax with their story. As you said, "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."

    Listening to story is a gift to the teller, but again as you said, it is a gift to us also for we share then in the Oneness that connects all of us. Thank you for reminding me of this. Peace.

  16. A lovely, heart-warming post. What a good message!