Have you seen moments like this one? A leaned in whispered tale. A giggle. A smile over a shared story.
Stories are so important, aren’t they? The fuel us in ways we cannot completely understand. They inspire us and move us to action, to memory, to anticipation, and to love. But stories are only effective if they are heard. If you can fully feel their meaning and your attention has not been diverted to the other demands upon your time.
In the first post in this series, I talked about seeing one another, truly seeing each other as the first step to loving each other back to wholeness. But what if you do? What if you do see your friend, neighbor, brother? What if you walk with her and talk with him and have dinner together every night? What if a call comes on a regular Sunday that this person is gone, has died by her own hand or killed another? “But I just talked to him,” you say bewildered, “everything seemed fine.” Underneath every fine there’s a poor and inside every nothing is a something.
We have trouble seeing one another, often we don’t look for the visual cues in our stance and demeanor, but we aren’t compensating with another sense—our hearing is also suffering. Inexplicably, our senses have ceased to work together strengthening one while another goes underground. Instead, they have jointly decayed in an age where the click of keys and a processing filter are the means by which we relate to one another.
I see you in all of your infinite roles. I know what it’s like to be “fine.” I know what value we have placed on “fine.” I realize the connotations of fine: sexualized and actual. None of it is ever very fine. Sometimes the “fines” thread together into a string of regret and silence that becomes a cord of rage. And we have to stop and listen to its rhythm before it reaches that level of dissonance. We have to hear and that’s what this post is all about: hearing and the reception of grace. Here's some of each to consider.
“I hate you God! Can you hear me? I HATE YOU!” I am wrapped in a towel, finished with a shower and worn down as more hair has fallen out. Leaving me tired, and in pain and feeling so very alone. I scream a litany of offenses to the sky—my mother’s untimely death, my father’s alcohol fueled path to mental destruction, the trembling fault lines in my marriage, Joe’s inability to recover from being bullied, feeling completely lost and alone despite a large number of “friends.” I sob. I scream, I throw anything I can get my hands on. “I did everything you have asked of me,” I say, “I’ve done more. When is it enough? Why have I stayed in one place spinning while everyone else moves? Why? Why me?” I slump on the floor, as miserable a being as ever was. I look up—waiting for a miracle.
Sometimes, just sometimes, being heard is that miracle.
When I think back on this later, I don’t feel ashamed as much as I do indignant. There is so much more that I think and do not say: how quickly I feel I have slipped from minds and hearts from those I have offered companionship and understanding and have not received anything in return. How the giving of grace is, at times, a thankless endeavor.
At Mass, our pastor talks about the state of our nation and the unrelenting disparagement of grace. “How many of us wake up and say, ‘Oh Lord, it’s morning’ instead of ‘It’s morning, thank you Lord?’” He goes on to caution us against the rhetoric being thrown at us from both sides of the political aisle.
And I consider, how many times turning to social media now is a veritable minefield of judgment, unverified links, grandstanding and shame. As if I don’t read? As if I didn’t already know? As if the choices weren’t already on a scale of absolute impossibility? And those are just my friends. There is no engagement on anything else—the very air crackles with disappointment, gross manipulation, undirected outrage, confusion and despondency.
Fr. continues asking us to consider with our conscience, and in prayer who we vote for. And, truth be told, also warns about the latest email leaks that show a contempt for the division of church and state. Conscience. Grace.
As Mass has ended and I move the boys toward the prayer candles, we light and pray, I say eyes tight, “Jesus, listen.” Only to hear, “You know, I’m glad we had that little talk this morning. I have heard you. I’ve got you. All will be well.”
I remember once telling my aunt that I was so ashamed for being a remarkably selfish child where my mother was concerned, now that she’s gone I could never make up to her what she was for me. The grace, constant and undemanding that she showered me with each day and I cast aside just as easily. My aunt laughed and said, “all close relationships are like that.” I remembered that. My relationship with God is that close. I can yell, and he will forgive. The grace with which he has shown me is extraordinary: “On a good day enjoy yourself; on a bad day examine your conscience.” (Ecclesiastes 7:14-17)
All the days now in our country appear to be grey and bad days but in examining my conscience I see more concerns than my gender and my race. I am worried about economic and domestic policy initiatives, defense and global terrorism that is escalating at an alarming rate, the rights of those who have nothing, the ability for gainful employment for many, for the protection and nourishment of the most vulnerable. So when I look at my conscience, it is for these that I am scanning documents and voting histories, verifiable communication and that needs to apply to anyone who is standing and saying, “I will represent you.” Man, do we need some good days. More than ever, we need some grace.
I haven’t seen you in awhile. Running into you at the coffee shop was such a great treat to my day. I watched you from my seat in the corner. I saw you park, and clench your hands on the steering wheel. I saw you take out your phone. I saw you grimace and put it back. There’s no smile on your face or proverbial spring in your step.
When I wave you over after you’ve gotten your order and ask you how you are, you smile, a little strained around the edges, the light not meeting in your eyes, “I’m fine,” you say. I smile in return, a little uncertain on where to go or how to get there. You don’t seem fine. Nothing says fine. But you look harried and worried so when you say we should get together, I nod and wish you a good day.
Later, when I am thinking about it, and you, I wonder what has happened. I can guess any number of things and experience has taught me that all of them are wrong. Yet, when my husband asks me what the matter is, I say, “Nothing.”
These two phrases. “I’m fine.” “Nothing.”
|I often think if I could give a gift to everyone it would be talk|
therapy, because then we could see our motivations, and
we could go so much easier on the world when
we finally figure out why we're not easy on ourselves.
How many times a day do we say them? Perhaps we alternate between the two. Are you really fine? Is there ever really nothing wrong?
I understand why we do it. We don’t want to be a burden on anyone else. We don’t want anyone to know what is burning. We cannot let anyone in on the things that make us wound so tightly we can’t see. We know when we ask that we don’t want the burden, we don’t want to put out the fire and we don’t want to get involved in the unraveling.
I am guilty of my lack of hearing, my deafness towards myself and others is a constant that I am trying to eliminate. My mind wanders towards dinner and chores as my smallest son shares the monumental discovery of his day. I nod because I know what’s expected of me. My action suggests my presence is active. I wonder as my friend is speaking if I will have time stop at that store or get that one thing. I look at my phone as I sit in the back row to “check” instead of hearing the speaker who has taken the time to prepare this talk. I allow the subtle drone of the television wash away the words of my husband who just wants to know how I am feeling. I silence the voice I know to be God’s and do the exact opposite of what has been requested of me. I do not want to know. I do not want to see. I do not want to hear. I do not want to feel.
Sue Klebold knows this pain. She recently wrote a memoir that discusses exactly what she never heard her son Dylan say. Her book goes into painful detail of her hearing loss leading to a greater one—the loss of her son. Even before Columbine, how she lost him bit by bit. Does this mean that you or I are ultimately at fault for the suicide or the shooting? No, I don't believe so; I do believe that they give us another glimpse of how lonely we feel, how isolated and how misunderstood. Guilt accomplishes a lot…but none of them for the good of any.
|A November post from my FB blog page with an idea of why|
a young person might become an extremist.
Sometimes people commit acts of great sorrow to send a message but even that is a misnomer. I think that often, those very people were the ones who were taken by the hand and heard by the organization who asked them to act. No one else was willing to take them in, no one else was willing to listen.
|created by SweetFace Design|
Grace saves everyone.
The act of verbalizing this, for me, means that I am saying that I have not done everything I should, in both my sight and my speech; I confess this to my community so that they can hear me. By sharing my lack of observation and action to them, they can hold me up in prayer so that I can do better, that I can be a servant of grace. And this is exactly what hearing grace does.
We are a world in catastrophic pain. We do not listen to understand; we listen to reply. Our desire, deep and ephemeral is to be heard. Have you read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? One of the most amazing moments in the tale is when Harry finds the Mirror of Erised. His headmaster, Dumbledore, tells him that the happiest person in the world could look in the mirror and see himself exactly as he is. He could use it, in other words, as a regular mirror. For Harry, robbed of his family as a baby, he sees his heart reflected to
him in their joyful reflection. Erised after all, is Desire spelled
backwards. Seen, heard, valued,
|The inscription reads "erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi" which|
means "I show not your face but your hearts desire."
If we can have those two senses come together—sight and sound, even if we are too weak to produce them ourselves, if we can do it for another, we reclaim their worth from the shadows of life and pull them to the light. We tell them, simply, that they matter. We thank them for being here and being who they are.
Gratitude and grace come from the same Latin root: gratis. Please hear that. Grace and gratitude are from the same root. So the act of hearing is not only an act of prayer but of thanks. You are thanking the person with whom you share those words, whispered or shouted, fear-filled or exuberant, you are thanking them for their very presence. That makes them important. That makes them matter. And when you do that, when you hear them, you are saying that they are important and that they matter. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. That may be all it takes to save a life and in so doing, save our own.
How many days has it been since you heard your friend?
How many ways have you dismissed her pleas to be heard?
Can you hear her trying?
Why then are you standing off to the side and letting her struggle?
Why aren’t you actively engaging with her and confirming her importance to you?
Why are you including her at all if you won’t?
What is stopping you from showing her the grace that is hers and the gratitude that is yours?
Sometimes our “hearing” in this increasingly digital age of tweets and posts and status updates, is that. A chance to yell to the world that you are hurting and to please acknowledge it. Sometimes though, it is not so pronounced, the desire to be heard. And sometimes it is said that it is the quiet ones you have to watch out for—but that isn’t always true, hearing is far more nuanced than that.
Under a smile or a thousand different spinning plates may be a person who is hurting far worse than the one staying silent. The reason for the spin? To keep the emptiness out. Because there is no one to hear just how hard it is to keep it all going. It’s complicated, isn’t it? Social media is the tinnitus of the modern age. The white noise that covers up what is really being said—the resounding deafness we all have. Let me explain.
I know I have written about the perils of social media before, but now especially now when we are facing such crisis, such hurt, such misunderstanding, the anonymity and usage of social media platforms to distance one another is overwhelming.
I so want to hear your story.
Yours. I do not want to hear about you through your political link. You do not wish to be shamed for my assumption of your choices that I have not inquired about. We are shouting with these posts, we are not talking to each other, and worse still, we are not giving our friends the opportunity to respond. We have allowed the insentient to take over for conversation and virtually eliminated any understanding. A computer screen is now an auditory canal. The potential for missing the story—for hearing the hurts or celebrating the joy is limitless. We cannot allow this to happen. We have to hear each other.
When we make friends no matter where on the spectrum they are, we fall in love. That's what's so great, we think love is reserved for romance, but we fall in love with friends, and the deeper the bond the deeper that love. When misunderstandings and hurts and anger happen, that's when the heart breaks a little bit more.
The broken pieces I have of my heart, when friends who I no longer see daily or talk to even weekly have ignored my posts of my children, these I have tucked away and tried very hard to protect. It can feel as though they've chosen not to show me grace--and that hurts. I'm conscious however of not hurting them in return. The part of my heart that allowed them in has its own muscle memory, and that aches. Until that ache passes completely and that love is gone, I will continue to like pictures of their children and accomplishments of their family. It's the only way I can make social media work.
The bigger the love, the harder I am trying to be heard, the more painful the hurt.
I don’t think it is so different for you. In fact, I’m willing to bet that it isn’t different at all. You don’t feel heard. You are tired, tired of rhetoric and links and people telling you how you must feel. Your voice cannot be isolated from the din going around you, so you’ve withdrawn it, rusty and restless it sits and wait in shocked surprise when it is used to tell your story for an eager audience ready to listen to it.
We have gotten so far away from it—hearing one another—that there are courses for it titled “active listening.” Especially useful in conflict resolution, the participants are taught how to silently engage with what is being said and to repeat it to the speaker to verify what that is. If you are shaking your own head reading this, know that I am too. It seems like common sense. And yet it is so profoundly absent in a world where interruption and agendas and self-prominence reigns: ideas that have their root in disconnect.
Hearing is all about connection.
Our brain hears sound “360 degrees around the head” and makes discernment of what those sounds are, often at the same time. Even with an understanding of how hearing works, however, we seem to be missing its connection to the human heart. Studies now show that as your heart begins to show signs of failure, your hearing can also be lost. Your broken heart can directly affect your ability to hear.
So how do we stop our hearts from breaking? Start it now, hear what is being said, pull it to its bare boned truth. Understand it. Feel it. Say what you’ve heard and in your reply you offer grace and thanks for allowing that moment to be.
I believe that the shared whispers of goblins and journeys on playgrounds and front porches, the tightly whispered confession in a church basement, the joyful shared song in a car, the quiet lullaby—all these that I have seen and witnessed and been a part of, all of this is grace. All of this is hearing and prayer. All of this is love and another piece to find each other again.
Please remember, underneath every fine there’s a poor and inside every nothing is a something. It’s our job to both find it and let it out. To whisper words of grace and offer gratitude. Sit with me for that coffee, please? And you can tell me how not fine you are. And then it will be fine. Because in the act of telling, you are allowing yourself to sit with the pain of the “not fine.”
When we do that we can breathe a little easier, and walk a bit straighter. Being present in life means seeing and hearing all that goes on in it and through it. Once those two pieces come together—the being seen and the hearing of grace, we can begin to look within to see what has blocked us from forming the bonds with each other that we need to survive. We can breathe generosity. Thanks for staying with me, that’s what is coming next. Breathing in, exhaling out, and living generously.
“Peace I leave you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid.” I hear you. Grace.