November 28, 2010
What’s on Your Mind?
In case you're wondering, the answer is yes. Yes, I am still finding joy in the most improbable of circumstances. This time it was closer to home than ever before, in fact it was inside my home.
My husband has been volunteering at a local homeless shelter. Obviously , I admire his effort – making them meals, bringing clothes, doing odd jobs around the building. I do my best to listen to the stories, but they are so heart wrenching, until today I could barely make it through without breaking down in tears, telling him I understood and asking him to please not finish. Then he’d cry too. Most times, I’d fish three or four sweaters out of my closet, pile them in his truck for the next visit…and we’d silently, anxiously, move along with our day.
Well aware of this fact, that I would lock the gates and bolt for cover the moment his words made their way from my head to my heart...this time I was committed to stay. I sat with him at the kitchen table, sipping coffee, eye to eye, and I took an impossibly deep breath. “How’s it going at the shelter, I asked.” Then I sat back and listened to every bitter cold detail. …The 50 year old Irish woman with the beautiful blue eyes, that always apologizes for her odor and has only yet mentioned that she is the youngest of eight, but promising to let him in on her story when she is ready. The 33-year-old "kid," from Portland, with the thin, frail fingers and a backpack stuffed with books, who is perhaps, one of the most well read people on the planet. The man who does not speak much but obviously loves dogs, who was beaten to near death, simply because he does not have a home. The mattresses scattered on the floor, the soullessness of their eyes, the palpable fear, and how he can’t stop thinking about them… how they all seem to members of the same race …“the forgotten.” When he was finished, I cried of course, but I noticed something else. He didn’t. In fact, he looked more peaceful than I’ve seen him in months. Dare I ask…was this simply because he finally got to finish his story?
With a half a smile and pat on my head, he flung back his last sip of coffee and said, "I'm going to bring that old organ downstairs to the shelter. I'll see you later," and off he went. It was then that I realized his volunteering was not just about making them meals, fixing broken doors and bringing them sweaters. Although all vital gestures, the gift he had truly been giving to these people was much simpler, and much more profound. He listened.
I got to thinking, what might happen if we all just stopped, asked our daughters, friends, neighbors and co-workers, simply, “What’s on your mind,”…and then really…just… listened. Radical thought these days huh? But, could this simple act really be the colossal misstep? Could it possibly be that all the anxiety, all the anger, all the terrifying loneliness of a well-populated planet…is a result of the fact that we have not taken five minutes to move the conversation from our heads to our hearts…and really…just…listen?
I suspect the people at the shelter he listens to most likely are still fearful of the night and still go cold for many a days. They may never even have a home again. But each week, for just a few gentle moments, the world stops spinning uncontrollably around them, simply because someone looks them in the eye and says, "what's on your mind?"...and then …
stays to listen.