Holiday 2013 -- Taking the Time to Listen
Little did I know that my life (and heart) would be so transformed by an 83-year-old man on his porch. I met Donald years ago since I'd pass his little ramshackle cottage every day while taking my dog for his walk. Since I learned early on that Donald was a "talker," I’d pass his house as if my dog were a greyhound on the racetrack.“Hiiiii!” I’d quickly chirp as I sprinted by (only to resume walking after turning the corner). Truth was I liked Donald. I enjoyed his stories and felt compassion for him – at least enough compassion to leave him little care packages when I'd know he wasn’t up yet, but obviously not enough compassion to give him the one gift he really needed: the gift of someone to listen to his stories and show interest in who he is as a person. I told myself that my dance card was full and I didn't have time to be shooting the breeze with this virtual stranger.
Then one day Donald wasn’t there. After a month of his absence, I accepted the worst and felt like the schmuck of the Universe.Would I have taken the time to chat with him had I known he only had weeks left on the earth? Instead of giving him muffins and cookies, could I have instead given him my listening ear? These were the types of questions I'd ask myself as I'd now walk past his darkened house.
About four months ago, I spotted a pale and emaciated Donald sitting where he had always sat. This time I sprinted towards him. It's only natural that he appeared taken aback by my sheer jubilation. After all, I had never seemed to care that much prior to this day. Even I was surprised by my enthusiasm and relief. Not only was I relieved for him that he was home, but I was relieved for myself – that I was being given a second chance to "get it right."
Although it’s only been a matter of months, I have come to love this man. I'll even go so far as to say I treasure our friendship. His daily stories of life experiences have enriched me immeasurably. While learning about him, I've learned so much about myself, and I have witnessed so many kind acts from neighbors that it's restored my faith in humanity! His presence in my life has been like Pilates for my soul, stretching me, expanding my heart and mind, and strengthening my core.
This holiday season, I challenge us all to stop sprinting away from the Donalds in our lives, even if it's just for a day. No Mother Teresa act of heroism is necessary. Simply listen to their stories. Be there for them. Be still in their presence instead of always flitting to what's next on the To Do list. You just may end up with the friendship of a lifetime and growing in a way you never imagined.