Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Secret to Being a Good Human

You have no idea how many awkward selfies I took
on this trip. It's seriously staggering.
What am I doing here? Oh gosh, who knows.
Also, in reviewing my trip pictures, it's become
clear that I have a
huge obsession with the Eiffel Tower.  

One of the things I love most about traveling is the people I meet—the fascinating, crazy, annoying, lovable people. I just vacationed in France so I’ve been on a shipload (why no, that’s not what I meant) of planes, trains and automobiles, meeting lots and lots of people in the process. 

While I didn’t realize this when boarding my first flight, it became clear to me that on this trip I had a very important job:  I was there to listen.  To strangers.  Tell their stories. 

Here’s what I mean: 

The Australians:  To my right, I struck up a conversation with a Mom and daughter traveling from Australia to Tampa, to seek special treatment for Lymes Disease, which isn’t recognized as a disease in Australia.  Mom was exhausted and plenty frustrated but overall in good spirits, considering she was leaving her job as a cattle rancher/teacher for 3 months to attend the $75,000 treatment her 26 year old now-wheelchair-bound daughter needed to recover from her debilitating illness.  

How do I know all this?  I listened.  I asked questions here and there, but really, all I did was sit there as this woman poured out her heart to me.

The Gangbanger: To my left, a man I was almost too scared to even say hello to.  When this  short and stocky, frowning, black hoodie-wearing Hispanic man sat down, he was listening to his iPhone through giant headphones.  Peeking from underneath his hoodie, I could see tattoos spreading from all over his body— from his chest and neck onto his face, from his arms all the way to the tips of his fingers.  Everything about him said: Go Away.

Not gonna lie, I judged.  But I was also really, really curious.

Because he kept texting.  And every keystroke highlighted letters tattooed on his fingers and ohmygosh what the heck does this tattoo say?  Of course, with my judgey-ness  in overdrive, I assumed he was texting his drug dealer.

I decided to carefully, out of the corner of my Lasik-enhanced eye, glance at what he was writing.  

Boy was I in for a shock. 

Scary Guy: Baby, I miss you so much already. 
Not Drug Lord but Probably Girlfriend?: Honey I love you.
Scary Guy Who’s Apparently a Giant Teddy Bear:  Baby you’re the best, you know I love you too. 

Um.  WHAT??!

So now dying to talk to this guy, I turn to him and say Hi.  He was a little startled, but said Hi back.  I asked him why he was heading to Dallas, and then…the floodgates opened.  

Friends, he would not stop talking.  About his job with FedEx, where he makes good money, but it’s bittersweet because he travels a lot and it takes him away from his wife, who is the Love of His Life.  No, that’s not strong enough.  She’s the Sun and the Moon and Stars and he would Die For Her.  No joke, this is all coming out of his mouth.  About the music he listens to, which is all OLDIES LOVE SONGS.  I kid you not, he actually made me write down a bunch of OLDIES LOVE SONGS to look up on YouTube.  

Besides listening, my other big lesson, as you can probably imagine: hello, judge much?  I had one of the most surprising, delightful conversations I’ve ever had, with a man I was almost too scared to say hello to.  (And by the way, I was right about one thing: the tattoo on his fingers spelled VIDA LOCA, an old gang tattoo. But that was his old life.  He's a new man because of his wife, who he Adores With All His Heart and Misses to the Depths of His Soul).  

I'm not kidding, this guy talking about his wife brought me tears. I learned a thing or two about love that day.  

Now, I’d love to say I do this all the time.  Yup, that’s me, The Great Listener.  

But that’s a load of you-know-what.

Here’s the deal: Listening is hard.

And me, the Type-A-oldest-child-fixer-problem-solver, always thinks I need to do more: What astoundingly wise thing can I say?  What thoughtful and perfect thing can I do?

And that’s the thing.  Sometimes we need to just listen
It’s a lost art, listening.  We’re so busy with our work, our phones, our lives, our overall busy-ness, that stopping to listen to someone—really and truly listen—it’s just not something we do. 
And it should be.  Because when someone takes the time to truly listen to me, I feel heard.  I feel cherished.  I feel loved. 
So now, I'm doing my best to listen better, to listen more.  And not just to strangers, but hey, maybe those people closest to me, too.
Anyway.  Thanks for listening. ;)
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.  - James 1:19
The first duty of love is to listen. - Paul Tillich 

When people talk, listen completely.  Most people never listen.  -Ernest Hemingway

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