There’s a older gentleman that comes into my work on a pretty regular basis. His name is Ted and he comes by to drop off landscape plans he has drawn up for someone. Many times I see him out my window and sigh because he’s a bit long winded. Usually, I’m trying to find a way to speed things up so I can get about my day. I don’t have time for him. I’m busy. I’m in a hurry.
I don’t know what about today was different. He sat down and we were just talking about landscape and creating a peaceful environment and I showed him pictures of what I was doing with my yard. We agreed that everyone needs quiet space for living and reflection.
He told me that in the mornings he gets up and goes for a swim and has a cup of coffee in his yard and reads his Bible. I told him that if I read the Bible I’ll do it at night and we started talking. And I listened.
I mean…I listened.
I don’t know what it was about that moment that I knew he had something to tell me and I better pay attention and so I did. He talked and I just looked at him. The expression on his face, the compassion and love in his voice that I’d never heard before. I saw beauty in his heart I didn’t have time for before. There was genuine care between us and it was wonderful because he saw me too. He talked about prayer in terms of healing what is inside.
He told me, “You heal by speaking so often that you hear it.”
I carried that conversation with me for the rest of the day and it felt amazing.
Last week, I went to meet a friend at a place by the university so it draws all kinds. Friends come and go from tables. There was one girl who was on fire about something politically based. I just said I didn’t have it in me to care about the details anymore. She came at me hard. Really hard. I was what was wrong with the country. I was the ignorant. I had a choice. Punch her in the face (thought about it for a split second) or lean in. I leaned in.
I touched her arm and said, “Don’t be angry with me. Let me know you.”
So she sat down and we talked and she told me why she felt so strongly and I told her about how, at age 44, I was just tired. We talked about why I support Sinema and she doesn’t. She leaned in, too. She was in her 20’s and perfectly genuine in her passion. She was on fire. We found mutual respect. She left the table and hugged me and called me her sister. All it took was an invitation to sit down.
These people and these moments are everywhere and I’m starving for them. It changes your thinking. It feeds a tired heart. It softens you. It sweeps the noise to the the dark corners of where you are until you can only hear you. It pushes you to think outside of yourself and jump into other people’s skin. And here’s the thing: it’s fun. It feels good. It was a reminder that I need to listen more. Ask more questions so I can hear more.
I’m learning to trust my instincts on who to invite to sit down. Not everyone gets to a chair but you’ll find the ones that do if you look for them. But now is not a time in my life to be closed off, no matter how terrifying the converse seems to me sometimes because there’s an amazing thing that happens when you attempt to be unflinchingly open. People do it back. They give. They give you their space and share yours. They let you speak and so much so that you heal.