There are a lot of new people at her church. It isn’t a big place, but when new people show up – especially all in the same season, it’s tricky to keep up with names.
But She tried to at least connect with the new women – especially those who seemed to be coming regularly. Being not all that good with names, a single brief introduction didn’t provide enough contact to let her greet everyone by name.
A smile and brief “hello – nice to see you again” is often just fine. But as a long-time member, She felt compelled to make an extra effort. Going out of the way to meet and get to know people – again, especially the women.
So when She found herself in the ladies’ room with a lovely new-ish attender, it seemed the perfect opportunity to strike up a casual conversation, work in the “oh, good grief, I have forgotten your name” and have a one-on-one, quiet, uninterrupted connection.
The opportunity and setting were perfect. The ladies’ room was pleasant and it was just the two of them.
She started to talk about something trivial … maybe the new artwork on the wall or the way the newly-installed doors didn’t open quite right and isn’t it weird to feel like you’re trapped.
But as She finished washing her hands, chatting away, She realized that Ms. New-ish was quickly headed for the door, using one-word answers, clearly on a mission to be somewhere else.
It didn’t feel very good. She wondered … had She said something insulting? But what could be distasteful about artwork or door locks? She knew the service was no where near starting. She even had a breath mint in her mouth.
What was it? Why the bum’s rush?
It bothered her most of the day. She wondered, asking the same questions over and over, replaying the scene in her mind. Maybe She did do something.
But maybe She didn’t.
Days later, still a little bruised, conversations She had in the past started creeping into her mind. Conversations with people who stopped by her desk or popped into her room. People who She wasn’t all that crazy about. Crazy people for whom She didn’t have a lot of time.
When they stopped in, She might continue to work at the whiteboard, never turning to acknowledge them or engage in the conversation. Maybe She sat at her desk, hands still poised over the keyboard with only a slight turn of the head toward the interloper.
She even remembered how She would get caught in the ladies’ room with the one woman who always had, as her grandmother called it, a sob story. No one ever asked how are you? for fear of inviting 15 minutes of whining. But even without prompting, Ms. Sob-Story would regale the listener – any listener – with details about her latest surgery or the misery over her daughter’s high school high-jinx, never recognizing clear signals of disinterest and annoyance.
She remembered how She would quickly head for the door, using one-word answers, clearly on a mission to be somewhere else.
And then She wondered. What if I had just stopped – just for a minute or two. Just to listen to this person who longed to tell her story. A person who must have felt alone and isolated, who only made it worse each time she force-fed her malaise to an unfortunate audience who couldn’t escape.
Wait. Is that what had happened in the ladies’ room at church that day when She hoped to meet Ms. New-ish? Was She just being dismissed because She didn’t seem to be worth the time or effort to engage in conversation? Was She being perceived as a Ms. Sob-Story – or Ms. Busybody or Ms. Uninteresting or Ms. Clearly Unimportant?
Good Golly, Miss Molly.
Yes, of course, there could have been a good reason for the speedy departure of Ms. New-ish. Kids, impatient husband, church responsibility, lots of things.
So She could let slide the strange ladies’ room conversation. She could, thankfully and finally, at this point in her life and therapy, let go of those things that seemed prickly and took up way too much of her time.
But what She could not ignore was the nagging memories of how She responded to the crazies or the Ms. Sob Story and probably countless other people She considered less than worthy of time or attention. And, with each tainted memory, She broke her own heart a little more.
And then She heard the poetic words of a sweet 14-year-old She knew and loved.
Sometimes when you are trying to listen to someone
you need to use your eyes and heart, not just your ears.
Use your eyes and heart.
My lovelies, I fear that’s what’s been missing in so many of our conversations of late. Our ears hear, but our eyes don’t see. We don’t see that she is in pain and alone. Or that the tears are right on the edge of falling. We don’t see the longing for somebody to care.
Our ears hear, but our hearts don’t love. We don’t understand how they can believe this or that. Or how they can support that position or how they can shout down someone who disagrees. We don’t love them because we don’t love – or care about – what they are saying.
Yes, we say we listened or we heard. We say we care and understand.
But when we don’t take just a minute to stop and engage, is that really true? When we quickly head for the door, using one-word answers, clearly on a mission to be somewhere else, aren’t we just wordlessly saying you’re not worth the time or effort to engage in conversation?
So here’s my plan. When they stop by, my hands will fold in my lap, and my shoulders will square with theirs. We’ll chat and listen, even if only for a minute or two. Even if only until we know we’ve been heard.
And I won’t head for the door. I’ll use all the words it takes. And my only mission will be to listen.
Listen … ears, eyes, heart.