This is my version of a sandwich with lunch meat. Honestly, I usually bypass that section of the processed meats.
Last week was an anomaly. The switch happened because I have been doing my best to put into practice the delicate art of really seeing people–trying to meet them on the common ground where their emotions are taking them and where I can be a source of empathy.
A lady who seemed about my age (I’m early sixty-ish) seemed to be in a quandary as I was on my way to the bacon. (I didn’t say that I was a purist about process food!) The way she was studying all of those choices propelled me into make a friendly comment–something like, “Gosh, the choices can just seem overwhelming sometimes, can’t they?”
She turned to me with a beautiful smile and replied, “Oh, my grand-kids are coming tomorrow, and I’m trying to figure out what they would like.” (She was actually 79!) I ventured another question, asking the ages of her grandchildren. Twenty minutes later, we had moved off to the side of the aisle, out of others’ way, and I had learned about her late husband, his wonderful high school coaching career, how his students still came to visit her, and how–in spite of his “tough approach to accountability”, his students had absolutely adored him. By that time, she had apologized several times about sharing her life-story, but by then I had become completely enamored.
By the end of twenty minutes, we had shared phone numbers and had promised each other to meet sometime for lunch. Some people seem to radiate life itself, and you’re drawn to them like Icarus to the sun. You sense that they have gleaned the best of life and carry it so innocently that they are scarcely aware of the treasures they hold. They seem genuinely surprised that people find them fascinating.
I learned several important lessons that day: 1) our stories are possibly the most valuable parts of ourselves, 2) showing even a slight interest in their stories provides life-giving energy for them and us, and 3) the authentic and humble gratitude they exude for what has come their way filled me with hope and inspiration.
Many religions, cultures, and teachings have their own “parables” about the importance of listening–genuinely turning our backs on our egos, our should-and should-nots of responsibilities and listening. My own version is the story of Jesus telling Martha that Mary had chosen what was important.
In the whole scheme of my rush to the bacon, those 20 minutes in front of the lunch meat counter were priceless. Moments like these give me the fresh air and energy to keep on going…