I am surprised at the intimacy of conversations with people I have bee having recently. Whether with family, friends, colleagues, strangers in the checkout line, I have found myself in the past few weeks in deep conversations, often exposing feelings that are vibrant, tender and real, and having others expose their hearts to me.
Nature abhors a vacuum. I think the same is true of feelings, You can stuff them and they will finally come out, either in behaviors (rarely constructive behaviors) or an explosion. Or others can step on them, try to hold them in, or put them down in hopes that they will but that does not mean they die. No. They linger, hurt and wounded. But they will not die. They will fight to exist. They will find a way to be. They will seek places where they are given the importance they deserve. Even in a checkout line.
I was traveling the other day, driving to DC with the radio on. I was listening to Oprah radio and she said something that struck me. Pardon me if it is not an exact quote, but it will be close. “The most basic human need,” she said “is to be heard, to be understood, to matter.”
I think there is truth to that.
There have been times I have tried to be understood, and felt like I was. Those are the best of times for me, and the people who listened, and invested their attention and caring to understanding and sharing at a deep level are still among my best friends. I would do anything for those people, including returning the favor. Whether they inherently understood that need, or whether I told them and they honored it, their gift of listening, of seeking understanding of my deepest self, not just the moments, made me matter. Not just to them, but to myself.
There have been others that simply did not listen. Would not listen. There are all kinds of reasons for this and I no longer even pretend to know them all. Some simply don’t care. Some have a need to tell. Some have a need to be heard that overpowers anything else. Some use words and their chosen deafness as shields. Others use them as weapons. Some are simply oblivious.
Some try to listen, but their minds are so quick, so anxious to get out whatever is on their mind that they cannot pause long enough to listen. Others don’t try.
Like I said, I can’t pretend to know all the reasons we don’t. But I know the effect. One of our most basic needs is not met and we end up feeling very, very alone.
It’s part of why I pray. I feel I am listened to by God. His patience with me amazes me. His willingness to listen to my grumblings, rants, cries, struggles, celebrations, progresses, hallelujahs, and just let me come to a place of peace amazes me. I have others in my life who grant me the same gift, the same patience. And I am grateful for those people, far more grateful than my words can every express.
It is part of why I write. Writing lets me stumble through my feelings, think them out loud. It’s OK if I don’t get it right as I get it out. My readers, like the people who listen to me, give me such grace. They seem to understand that much of what I write, I write not as fact, not as pronouncements or grand declarations, but as meanderings, as searching, as trying to find my way, another step on the journey. I feel blessed by my readers, not just because they at times buy a book or two, or say kind things about my words, but because they listen.
I have discovered that when I put my words and thoughts “out there”, I touch others. One reader a few days ago said that I often write of things on her mind, but buzzing just out of her reach. I so understand that. Others have done the same for me, over and over. And if I can return that favor for someone else, it is worth the risk of putting my thoughts and feelings “out there.”.
I have written since I was in college. You would think I’d be inured to rejection by now. But part of us are always children. We never get used to it. So at 58, every poem, every blog entry, every soulful conversation still feels like a risk. I no longer think I will get past that. The fact that I am more established, that I have a body of work that many people connect with, that I am tougher than I once was does not change the tenderness.
And it does not change the child like joy I still feel when people listen, when they allow me the space and care to let me ramble, that they honor the sharing.
I have come to the conclusion that those who do not listen have more of a need to control than those who do listen. Whether that need to control is a place of self protection, of pride, of rudeness, or some place else, there is a need to keep things in a safe place. I think the same of myself when I have failed to give someone else that space.
So I am particularly grateful to those who listen. To those who let go of that control or need to assert themselves and just listen. You, whether you are friends, or family, or readers, have given me the greatest of all gifts. You’ve helped me believe I matter. You’ve made this 58 year old child very happy indeed.