Subtleties of Listening

The past six months I have been doing a lot of listening, and a lot of thinking and even some reading about listening.  I hope to continue the topic and would love some feedback/interaction on the topic.  I have shared often that it is perhaps my most important job up here.  I stand with moms waiting for a school bus and I have the privilege of hearing their challenging stories of the past year and a half;  I meet with a friend and we cry over our coffee at the hard, hard things they are still dealing with.  I get to enter their world – sometimes even briefly- and for just a fraction of time experience some of the horrors of the earthquake and tsunami that rocked this world on 3/11/11.

But tonight my coworkers and I learned a hard lesson about listening.

We have been having kids’ english on Thursday afternoons, led by our amazing coworker Beth.  At the same time, the moms all meet and have tea together.  Part of our hope has been to create a safe place for moms to talk and share — whether about their tsunami experiences, challenges with family, whatever.

We have rejoiced as we have seen a real sense of community being built among the women.  It is often hard after the hour and a half to end things.  Several of our friends have talked about this precious time being the highlight of their week.

Today we started the time with me announcing that I had something really serious to talk about… everyone looked a little worried, until I pulled out a priority mail box that had been sent from our office in the US.  It was FULL of brand new ladies’ underwear in all shapes, colors, sizes, and lacy fabric.  A sweet person in Iowa had seen on the news (perhaps about a year ago now?) that the tsunami victims needed underwear, and had gone out and bought a bunch and shipped it with a note of explanation to our office.  Whether it sat in someone’s home or in our office for a long time, I don’t know, but I thought it would be fun to pass it on with the ladies today.

I had a good time guessing at who would enjoy the leopard pair;  the bright red ones, etc… And then we started talking about the first two months after the tsunami when there wasn’t running water and no way to wash underwear.  It was a big problem.  One friend shared that even though they had made a portable john out on the veranda, during the night it was pitch black and impossible to safely go out and so they had used diapers to make a human “litter” box.  I asked how they disposed of poo-poo during those few months (no running water, no trash pick up, etc.).  One friend said they realized if they threw it out to sea it would just come back to them (they were still dealing with floods during high tide); so they would wrap it in newspaper and burn it outside.  Wow.  Never realized a lot of this.

And then several women shared how very, very quiet it was.  After 6 pm (when most of them would go to bed because there was absolutely nothing else to do), there were no lights.  At all.  Pitch black.  So they would lie in bed, wanting to go to sleep, but they would hear everything.  One friend, T., lives about a half mile inland and said she never realized how noisy the waves were.  Without any cars or trains going by, and everyone in bed, they could hear the water.  Other friends have shared how they couldn’t sleep precisely because they COULD hear the water- it represented the most scary thing on earth to them, so the sounds of the waves was anything but soothing.

My friend Y. said she would wake up and hope it was morning only to discover it was still like ten pm.  She would do exercises so she could become tired enough to sleep for another three hours.  I felt exhausted just hearing their stories.

And then I noticed that one of our friends had become very silent and seemed disturbed.  And in a minute, she stood up and left the room.  I went looking for her a few minutes later, and saw her in with the kids.  After the event was over, she came over and found me and totally apologized.  Hesitantly, she explained that it is so difficult for her to hear the ladies talking of their tsunami experiences — at times laughing.  She knows it is good for them, but the pain of loved ones that she lost in the tsunami is still too raw for her.  She felt physically sick and had to leave the room.  Time has passed, but not enough.  we apologized; listened, and prayed with her.

So I am thinking about listening. About telling one’s story.   It is so important;  but the audience is key.  The pain from such devastating loss is not going to go away quickly.  It is still incredibly painful and raw.  I don’t pretend to understand or know.  I pray for grace to be able to walk along side, even when it means stopping along the way with one friend and allowing others to go on ahead.   Pray that we will have more grace, more wisdom, more insight into our roles as listeners.



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