I am a professional story listener. I believe my purpose in being created is to receive people’s stories. This happens in chance encounters while traveling, and sometimes with friends and family, but most of all while I am on the job. Being a story listener can be hard to do, especially if the story is frightening or disheartening. I feel fortunate that I am adept at being calm yet inviting, no matter what kind of story someone needs to share, whether a bleak or joyful one, whether an angry or peaceful one. I believe that when I create a quiet yet loving space for people to tell me about themselves, that I am making room for a holy encounter. I am letting myself and the one telling the story hear the “still small voice” of God in the authentic opening up of that person to me and to him or her self.
I have always been interested in knowing all about others. Since childhood, I was fascinated with people from different cultures. Since being a teenager, I have relished speaking foreign languages and the different views of reality reflected in them. I have always pursued the essences of things with teachers and with friends. I think my consuming curiosity about the most basic things in our existence, such as why we exist at all, is what drives my beliefs.
In my career as a hospice chaplain, I listen to patients who are nearing the end of their lives. This is when I hear the most intense stories. It moves me how we human beings cope with the ultimate transition. I savor the intimate moments when someone chooses to reveal their innermost thoughts. I am awed by what I learn as patients make sense of their lives up to now, and by how they have overcome adversity. I am always bringing home anecdotes to family and friends. One time I was visiting a patient who wondered why she was still alive, as she had accomplished all she had wanted and now felt at peace with dying. After about an hour of listening to her wrestle with what meaning could still be left for her, she suddenly realized something. She said, “Maybe I am still alive because there is some future good news in my family that will fill me with much peace and contentment.” Another time, I was talking with a patient whose daughter was soon to turn 50 (as am I). I asked her what this brought to mind. She said, “each decade that we live has its own beauty.” When I learn such insights as this, this is when I know the treasure of being alive. This I believe.
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