“Half the time I’m here I’d just rather be dead. There’s no one to talk to.”
Those words were the first ones a century – old woman said to me last night. I met her again just before dinner in the hallway of my mom’s assisted living building. We’d chatted briefly a couple of times during this most recent visit to Florida but our conversation this time would be a more profound one.
For all practical purposes she is also blind though she seems to manage getting her wheelchair to the dining area and a few other places she can find by feel. She is quite engaging, however, and obviously eager and willing to talk. So the counselor, pastor and listener in me urged her to tell me more about why she felt the way she did.
And she told me. She shared how she got to Florida, about how she lost her husband, where she was from, how long she’d lived here and most importantly why she doesn’t think she has much of a purpose anymore. So I listened some more and said only enough to help her think about what she still might do with a life imprisoned by blindness, old age and a wheelchair.
She may try one of my ideas, she may not.
The point of talking about our encounter is to remind us all that most everyone has a story and sadly many never get to tell it. They long for someone to just listen, even more than fix their problem. To them their journey matters but seems to have gotten lost on most people.
You see listening to someone’s life tale acknowledges them as a valued human being. Even if their life was hard (and it is for most), the fact that someone took the time to hear about their sojourn helps to remind them that what they went through doesn’t disqualify them from personhood.
Listening puts a long-needed spotlight on them, even if for a few moments, that says that their existence in this life still matters to someone. Sadly, unheard stories are all around us, often lost because we and others first want to tell our story,. We somehow believe that the events of our lives are more important than theirs or we at least need to make them seem more important to others.
The next time you’re in a crowd at a party, church gathering, office meeting or whatever, stop and notice the interactions. How many people are talking about themselves? How many others are really listening versus how many can’t seem to wait to talk about themselves? There’s an old joke about a guy who says to a friend, “Hey, enough of me talking about me. Why don’t you talk about me?”
I wonder if our listening to someone who doesn’t get heard very much like that lady at my mom’s facility could be that little nudge or encouragement to still make a difference in their world, no matter how tough that world is. Somehow, I think more stories would be told . . . and yes remembered for a long time.
In fact, we might just save a life or two.