Actually, it came as a surprise. The gift was simple enough, a gold chain with a heart, but it was that it was a gift and not expected that carried the weight of it. Simple, in that it was not gaudy and flashy. Simple, in that it carried no expectations. Simple as well, in that the gift and the giver were gracious in the giving and the receiver was matching in the receiving of it. It wasn’t the first gift and it won’t be the last. It will always be gracious. That is how the system works. Surprise, gracious and without strings that complicate.
It wasn’t always that way. The maxim is that “You cannot give what you do not have”. That was, and is, always the case. What you don’t know is the process for any individual story that carried the teller of that tale from before to after. It is the same for your story as well. No one knows unless you tell, unless you have a companion that will share it on your behalf. In the movie Jaws, from a long time ago, the three were on the boat chasing the shark when they had a bit of rum and started telling of the scars that they carried. It was the usual game of one-upmanship that is found in such tales, and soon you show the bigger scars with the bigger stories. Then only those that know the rest of the story know the power of it. In this tale the word “Indianapolis” had the power. That the voyage was top secret. That it was carrying the “Bomb” and that it was not even searched for until it was way overdue. That the boys that survived the sinking were not surviving the sharks that found them. The fear of the rescue, of taking turns to get out of the water before the next shark attacked. This is the story of Brodie as he tells the tale that isn’t told…. It is the same for you. And for me. No one knows the wound that is behind the smile or the shirt or the shorts.
The tale is not told often. The one to whom it is told is always the same, important. Interestingly, they don’t have to be known. Sometimes a total random stranger will do. And the gift is given. Actually, it is a gift of vulnerability. To tell another of the part of the journey, that is particularly and specifically connected to the reason for the telling, is an amazing thing. To let one tell of their journey is a gift, but to receive that gift is also a gift. The ability to set aside your need to trump and takeover the tale is a gift of submission. To listen, to ask connected questions, to keep eye contact and to emote are all powerful tools in the art of conversation. To do it well is to set free the heart of another soul.
It was a simple question that I asked my waitress, but the result was anything but simple. Four years, the answer to how long she had worked at the place I went to eat. That she had quit college because she wanted to save enough money to pay for school, was the reason she was working. That her dad had died was why she was still living at her mom’s home. That her sister’s husband had died was why her niece (a precocious 5) was why her sister was still there as well… all in less than the time it took to write this…. “I’m going to cry” was the next sentence she uttered…. It was the gift of vulnerability, to a total stranger that would listen. So, I did. She gave me the gift of her story and I gave her the gift of listening…. We both came away better for it.
It was a gift, really. The simple act of listening. Of subordinating your needs for another. Simple, like a chain with a heart. Like you let someone matter. That they knew that they were “seen” and that they existed. That they were known. A simple gift, really, given by one that has been known. The chain is the line that connects us, from your story to my heart, that you then string onto your chain as a memory. A mnemonic of that one place and that one person that came through the haze of numbness and brought light and clarity to an otherwise pattern of dullness. If you cannot give what you do not have, then that means it had been given to me. I have a chain of gold that has a heart, of one that gave and made clear things that were not. Of things that needed to be told, to one that would listen. It is now in me to do the same.
Time. The most precious of things. The gift of time that you give to another can only be remembered, not returned. To give the gift again to one that has spent time with you is to spend time with them, but they are in charge on this occasion. To engage them, to listen and ask good questions, to be still when you need to wait, these are all signs that you are letting them lead, and to be heard. Time that cannot be taken back. We are all aware of the lost time that we spent with the empty suit and the intellectual black-hole that made us feel dumber for the waste of that time, and the moments when we lost track of time because of the rapture of the conversation… At times it is us. Or it is the topic. Other times it is the person. Still, there are moments, you have had them, when the convergence of your heart, the topic, and the person coalesces in our lives, and we leave with a chain with a heart. And with a changed heart. And a responsibility to reciprocate. We know not where and we know not when, but we know it will be our duty to comply.
The conversation turned when the cigar was lit. The change was clear, and the memory was old. This time it was the smell. “Let me tell you about my uncles” came the sentence. “I was the favorite of my uncles, and they loved me”… the story continued but the sparkle of the memory was clear, this tale meant something that had not been told in quite some time. The story needed to be let loose onto the world again, kept in the box for so very long. Now it arrived with the odd chance of an aroma and a place to tell the tale of a child in the midst of men that played dominos and drank and smoked cigars… and the memory spilled into the place of our conversation. What came next was the realization that no one had taken the time to let the story be told. No one had given the teller of the tale the room and the permission to be free to do so. Until today. When the story and the memory and the heady awareness that it had happened all congealed on the teller of the tale there was a keen awareness as well, that it had been a long time in the dark and it was good to be set free. To be remembered, like a chain of memories and the heart of family that loved that little girl that told the tale, because there was room for the story to be told, and permission to do so… This is the gift that is given. To a friend, to a stranger, to one that is ready to tell.
What of you? The truth is that most people want a listener, not to listen. That they need to be heard before they can hear. While that is a sad state of things, it is the state of things. My point is that you must keep your expectations clear. Others want to talk, not listen. So do your best in this. If you are a good listener, be sure that most will also be good talkers. It is then essential to be attentive to one that can actually listen to you. They exist but you have been disciplined in the art of listening not seeking. I know this for I live this. It is a curious thing, to be listened too, for me. When it happens, it is that which I want, but must be ready to accept, rather than pass by. Sometimes I am too guarded and miss it. They were there, but I was clueless. Or wounded. It happens. If you are the listener that never talks you are hiding and need to know I see you. It is because I am you. When we meet, I will know you and tell you, but with laughter… for it is me that is being told upon…
It is a gift, really, to be a good listener that finds a good listener. I always wonder then, to whom do they tell their tales? Today I am that which I am, a listener to some and a teller to others. It is the same for you. You will listen to some and need to tell to others. I hope you find them, those to tell too. There is a meme that asks “when a child asks you to answer their toy phone, who would say no?” It is the same for the wounded… if they ask you to listen will you say no?
The role of curiosity is paramount. To collaborate with a co-worker, it is required that you laugh and make mirth. Not just like the co-worker but enjoy them and make jokes and merriment with them. A degree of freedom comes from this, which brings creativity. This is the rich soil from which seeds bring flower and then fruit. It is the place from which comes mirth. Deep, soul searching, edgy and touching on the pain behind the veil. This is the “yeasty bits”, to quote from the book “Sea Wolf”, that represent life at its most full ebb. It is that which is the most real. It is the heart on the chain that connects us all in this journey called life.
To elicit a story of a father’s death, Brother in law’s death and the angry behavior of the sister in a matter of moments is the work of one that has faced the beast of the sea and survived. It is what you have done. It is that which you will do. To see the glee in the eyes of one that tells of uncles at the table is to know the joy of the telling after a long time of not… this is what you will do. There is a book called the “Ya Ya sisterhood” and it is about the relationship of friends thru struggle. It is the tale of a teller of tales and a listener of them. We are community and that means being in communion with others. Telling and listening and crying and weeping with them that cry. Step up your game and do that which you are called to do.
To engage with them that need engaged, to smoke a cigar with one that need to tell of their history of cigars, to sit by the fire with those that need to talk at the fire… you will know, but you need to act. People like me are waiting for you to engage. People like you are waiting on me. Engage. Be proactive, be active. My gift of a chain with a heart is your gift in return. A chain of connection from your heart to mine. A heart of listening to one needing heard. It is community, and that is us. Commune with me.