Haven’t really been interested in sharing lately. I’ve had another thing on my heart and mind. These haven’t been the best of times. But, they sure have been testing times. I’ve been focused, maybe “distracted” is a good word, or “concerned” is a better word, or maybe “consumed” is the best word, with Susie’s sudden, inexplicable, untreatable, and apparently irreversible blindness that she experienced in her left eye upon awakening one morning four weeks ago while we were on a family care-giving mission in Boston. Then quickly–and at times frustratingly not so quickly–followed referrals to an opthalmologist, referral to a retina-opthalmologist, referral to a neuro-opthalmologist, referral to a neurosurgeon, blasé secretaries, rigidly disinterested schedulers, inflexible by-the-rules staffers, nurses, PAs, hospitals, triages, emergency rooms, blood tests, CAT scan, spinal tap, arterial biopsy, high doses of bloating steroids, fear, depression, anger, and total uncertainty. You name it. The words “urgent,” “immediate,” and “emergency” were often used in a life-threatening context, but so often it was of no matter. Too many did not listen! As I said on my Facebook page, I am wondering how urgent an urgency must be for people to act urgently. So, it was so often a war of battle after battle after battle of self-advocacy to break through battlements of an unbending and unfeeling medical bureaucracy that was so often deaf and blind, so often void of empathy, sadly so absent of a sense of humanity. Now, to be fair, we did encounter a few listening and loving angels. Thank goodness for them. But, they weren’t in the majority.
As you can imagine, “listening,” “attention,” “loving,” and “empathy” have been especially on my mind lately. Then, yesterday, out of the blue, came a voice from the past, the second one in a week. ”Hey, doc, I finally found you. At least, I hope this is you…..in case it is, I just want to say to you that I had figured out the secret madness to your teaching method, what I found to be the most important learning I had taken with me from our class, although I didn’t realize it at the time and until some time later. That secret was the best gift you could give each of us. And, once I unlocked your secret, I started using it in my business every day with every person, employees and customers, and with family and friends alike. You always had said that each of us was a noble, sacred, human being with untapped potential. Your secret attitude and action toward us was to live your words with what I now call ‘respectful listening.’ You listened to each of us. You noticed each of us. I mean by that that you did far more than merely hear our words. I mean you zeroed in on us and blocked out everything else; you intently considered what’s being said by whom; you were intensely interested in what is being said and why it was said; you showed that you sincerely valued the person talking; and, so, you showed that each of us was important and valuable. You never faked listening; you never was thinking of something else while we talked; you never ignored or dismissed as ‘what do they know’ foolishness what we had to say. I never saw you roll your eyes or have an empty stare or have a bored gaze or have a blank face. And, never did a denigrating word come out from your mouth or did a smirk appear on your face. You listened more with your eyes and heart than with your ears. You were always, always interested in what we had to say and especially why we said what we said. And, you did this because you gave a damn for each of us. You treated each of us as a human being in whom you believed. You didn’t just love to teach, you loved people. And, that is why you loved to teach and reach and lift up. And, that made it reassuringly safe for each of us, no matter what anyone said. So, if this is you, thanks for your secret gift. It, more than anything else in any class, has made me successful over these years both in business and life.”
I read that heaven-sent message over and over and over again. Would the many medical personnel Susie and I encountered in the last few weeks have known and lived that secret. But, sadly “disrespectful and insincere listening” is too often the way of too many people in every way of life, including academics. Yet, did you know that the greatest need we each have is to be noticed and heard? Did you know that greatest teaching tool you have at your disposal is to notice and listen? Did you know that the greatest form of support and encouragement, of instilling self-confidence, of valuing, of respecting, is attention? Without listening there can be no empathy or sympathy, no compassion, no respect. Attention is the most basic form of love. Love and attention are poetry of the soul. Attention is an exercise in mindfulness. And, we can behave this way in everything we do. We can respectfully listen to every person, be intently attentive to every experience, be sensitively alert of all that is around us, and be intensely aware of every moment we live. Grace has to be more than an expression; it has to be expressed in the way of living.