“The first duty of love is to listen.” Paul Tillich
Recently, I’ve had more than one experience where my Stranger for the day was someone who needed to tell a story. Our society, my schedule, the world at least in America isn’t really geared for listening anymore. Not unless we are in front of the television with built-in sound bites and breaks. We’re geared for go gettum and success. A little high-strung even if it’s politely hidden in our smiles.
Last week a woman told me her story for an hour. An hour. She never stopped talking. In this situation I happened to be a captive audience or I never would have spent the time – trust me. Not out of dislike or not wanting to but simply out of rush. But now I know something now about this woman, her parents, her husband, her family, her history. I feel like I actually know her in a way that I never would have. And this fact reminds me yet again that the strangers we pass on the street, in the airport, the grocery, all have these incredible stories happening at large. With beautiful, universal life circumstances. I am discovering that in spite of all of our huge, incredibly, diverse differences, we continue to have a constant common ground. Our human experiences, our basic needs, our stories in the long run so similar and unifying.
So good for me. One whole hour. A few days later I knocked a woman down trying to get out of store and back to my jeep to continue with the details of my life. Okay – I didn’t actually knock her down but I might as well have. She was trying to tell me something, anything, just to keep me there. Sure, sure, it might have only been about the weather and the deli meat and what she liked the most but the fact was my listener was turned off. I was in too much of a hurry to care.
So it’s true, I don’t always have an hour but maybe just a few minutes won’t kill me, will actually do a little good. If only I can remember this the next time an opportunity arrives for me to listen because most likely my day will be just as busy then. Maybe my prayer is just to offer up five or ten good minutes of real listening to some stranger’s story. I think that’s one of the finest prayers I know.