I’ve had to do a lot of listening in the past month, and it hasn’t always been easy. In this case, I use the word listening to mean those situations where the other person is engaged in a long monologue, and I’m the lone listener.
Sometimes, it’s not a conversation because the person is retelling something from the past. Or sharing something from the present that is painful. Or simply talking out of a desire to connect with another, with me.
One person I listen to often is elderly and lives alone. To fill the time when I come to visit, she tells me about recent personal events and activities. Things that are of little consequence or import. Often in excruciating detail. My asking questions in an attempt to shortcut the trip to the end, if not the point, of the story only doubles her determination to tell me every last detail and in precisely the order in which an event occurred. I tell myself it is her desire to connect with me that makes her so determined that I share her experience with her. Listening to her, I feel trapped, stifled. I yearn to flee. And yet, my connections to her run deep, and so, I stay rooted where I am.
I defy you to listen to anyone for five minutes and stay silent. There’s something in all of us that compels a need to turn a monologue into a dialogue. To engage. But sometimes, the best way to engage, to establish an open connection with another person, is to not talk but to be fully present. Simply, to be there and listen. When I fully engage in my role of being her audience, I am rewarded, not with an exciting story, but with a deeper relationship.