We are told that for our children to be good learners, they first need to be good listeners. We are to train them well in the art of listening. Turns out, I also need a lesson in listening well. . . . perhaps more than they do.
My daughter’s teacher came to speak to us last week. We were collecting her in the playground, and her teacher got up from her work, crossed the room, opened the window, leaned out and waved us over. Now, in this kind of parent/ teacher encounter, we always assume that something is the matter, don’t we?. . . . but not in this case. She just wanted to ask my daughter about her brothers and meet them. She asked her a few questions about their ages and the like and then said cheerio. That was all. No big deal. Except that it was a big deal to my daughter. I looked at the smile on her face as we walked home. It wasn’t a big grin, but it was a quiet smile that said, ‘my teacher is interested in me. She values me. She wanted to hear about my wee world. I am special.’ She was so pleased. She smiled the whole way home.
Her teacher was no doubt very busy, trying to finish work to get home to her own child. She could have just kept her head down, focused on her own tasks, caught up in her own busy day, but she didn’t. She looked up. . . she reached out, and she listened. It was a tiny event in our day. . . in our week, but one that will have made an imprint on my daughter’s heart. One of those many simple every day interactions that piece together in our hearts . . . . that weave through the tapestry of our life with a golden thread, making our picture rich with self worth and beauty.
This small moment has challenged and haunted me. How many opportunities like this have I missed? How many times have I been too caught up in my own busy day to just stop. . . reach out and listen? People love their stories to be heard, but how often are we too caught up in our own stories to hear that of others?
I berate myself so often after a conversation with someone when I look back and think how I interjected with my own experience, my own thoughts, in the middle of their story being told. I know it is good to share experiences, but sometimes the most powerful way to connect with someone is by giving them our attention. I need to lift my head up out of my own story more and practice the art of just listening. . . . I want to be able to truly stop for someone, so that they know, in my silence, ‘I am leaving my story to one side. . . I want to hear yours. . . I am listening.’
“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” Ernest Hemingway.”
I had a teacher at school who used the phrase ‘eyes down, look in.’ He said it a lot. It was his way of rallying us to work. To focus, to be completely involved in the work in front of us.. . . ignore distractions. . . . get the work done. But what if this is how I am moving through life?
Life is busy, I don’t need to tell you that. . . and we never quite seem to reach that place of illusive ‘free time,’ that I dream about. We could forever keep our heads down, running the race of our own lives. . . ‘eyes down, look in,’ . . . too busy to listen. . . . don’t look up.
I don’t want that. I can choose to look up and listen if I want to. Choose to listen to stories other than my own. I want to see that smile that was on my daughter’s face, over and over again, on lots of different faces. Its a small act of love is to stop ‘doing’ for a moment and offer our full attention? Stop. . . look. . . listen. . . and listen completely. What if today, I just put down the dishes for a moment when my son calls my name for the tenth time? It sounds so simple, I know, and yet in reality is so difficult. . . . . but what if today I lift my head from my own busy tasks. . . . . get down to his level. . . . look in his sweet face, so desperate to tell me his wee story. . . . . and just listen?
I hope that smile will appear there. . . . and a golden thread.