My tongue is in my hand…

Ready and willing

Posted on: February 3, 2009

I’ve been told that I’m easy to talk to and confide in, and I’m not kidding you, today a girl I never before met talked to me for an hour on the sidewalk in front of the library. Told me why her husband is in jail right now, why he has been before, why she’s not getting him out, why she doesn’t have custody of her kids, how many times she’s been married, who’s abused her, what she’s doing next, how she’s coped with her life, who’s helped her and who hasn’t, what she’s learned from her life, her relationship with God…

I came out of the library with a little extra time and was going to walk around downtown for a little bit before heading to my car (because I love small town downtowns) and saw her sitting there, looking down for the count, starting a cigarette that she promptly put out once she started talking.  I made eye contact while walking that direction. She said hey. I said hey. She said “how’s it going” as I walked by, I said “alright, you?” She said could be worse, but it’s been better. I said, at least you’re in the middle, hopefully it will get better soon. She looked at a folded piece of paper in her hand and shrugged…I didn’t move.

I didn’t get her name. I did start fiddling with my keys and walking towards my car a little once it started getting dark, but she didn’t stop talking till her ride pulled up, even then, she kept on. I felt bad leaving on that note, so abruptly. But she wasn’t seeking anything from me (outright). I thought maybe she’d end up asking for something; a ride, cash, food, to use my phone, etc, but she didn’t. She didn’t want advice. She just wanted to tell her story.

Maybe she’s always like that. Maybe she nonstop talks about these things to anyone and everyone. I don’t know. I don’t know what purpose it served (except shortening the smoke break she was taking) but I wouldn’t go back and not have that conversation. If ever I am that girl, sitting on a stoop down for the count, I hope someone will spend an hour with me for no reason except to listen to me (or talk to me).

What people need most from one another is the presence of someone. What I think  matters in the lives of the people is the determined attention of someone. The validation that another person can give us just by their presence (real, true presence) is enough to light our little fires within, to allow us to let go of something we were holding on to until someone believed us, believed in us, believed for us.

We look at others and try to find our reflections, who are we? Everyone needs someone in their life who reflects back to them that they are worthy, they are human, they are able, they are accepted fully as is, but they are expected to do good things with their self and their life, because they have it within them.

Her story was a variation on a familiar theme, but she had her own anecdotes. The time the kids tried to pet the goldfish…Everyone’s stories can be reduced to an overly simplified genre  if you’re not really listening. People are endlessly interesting (but still amazingly similar to one another in other ways) if you’re listening to them (and asking questions, and offering your self as well). It’s one thing to extract yourself from people who are negative in your life in some shape or form because you know them to be. It’s okay to be cautious about who you let in your life. But giving someone your time and presence for a while is not necessarily letting them in your life.

When you truly engage yourself with people, you are forced to participate in life, to develop your self, your thoughts, your opinions, your prejudices, your reflection…it makes you acknowledge the storylines you thought you knew were just summaries, and there’s so much more to a life, to a person, than that. All of the sudden black and white shift not just to gray but to all kinds of other things.

The more you know about someone, the more you can see what has shaped them and their decisions, perspectives, attitudes. And the more you see this, the more you understand what has shaped you and your decisions, perspectives, and attitudes. From there, you’re set up to start problem solving, reshaping, moving, accepting, improving, achieving, etc.  From there, it’s a little easier to say “Oh, I get it” instead of “What the hell?”

Accepting, empathizing, and validating are not the same as excusing, enabling, or defending. Most people, if given the first 3 start to realize they don’t really need the last 3 so much anymore. It’s empowering. It’s healing. If someone is ready and willing.

There’s so much we can learn from one another, if we’re ready and willing.

If nothing else, my sidewalk conversation was a catalyst for this entry, and that’s something. Everything is something. I don’t buy coincidence.

Maybe I always play this role. <—–That was my six word memoir at New Years Eve.


1 Response to "Ready and willing"

I used to get the same word from people all the time: You’re easy to talk to. And I accepted that as the reason that so many random people would tell me all their deepest and darkest secrets all the time.

I learned otherwise, eventually.

Every human being craves to speak themselves, to be heard, and understood.

And the difference isn’t your innate nature of being easy to talk to.

It’s that you listen.

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