THIS I BELIEVE
I believe in listening. As a dyslexic first grader, I discovered that if I listened very carefully to the teacher and other children, I could get by in school. The easy reader might as well have been written in hieroglyphics, but I could get enough information through listening to squeak by. After years of that, one day it was as though the printed page opened up and took me in; I could hear and see the action. My world suddenly got a lot bigger.
Later, as a psychiatric nursing student I was introduced to “active listening”– listening to not only the overt message, but to the feelings, themes and needs expressed. I remember observing one of my schizophrenic patients facing the sun, arms stretched out as if to catch the rays. Knowing his scientific training and barely contained rage, I figured out that he was soaking up a lot of solar power, and potentially very dangerous. I tried to distract him with a game of ping pong, but he began to shout with each volley, “Give ‘em the axe, the axe …”. Fortunately, we were able to intervene before he harmed himself or others.
After I retired, affirming and creative friends encouraged me to get involved at our county library. One thing led to another and suddenly I was doing oral histories of county “pioneer” family members. Here was a venue where I could use my listening skills and indulge my passion for life stories. That led to the even more challenging and fulfilling interviews for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. What an honor and a privilege it has been to listen to and record the stories of veterans. Often these brave, tough veterans have choked up as they relived some of the worst and best moments of their military service. In one, a nurse who served in Viet Nam recalled pouring medication into the still smoldering eye sockets of villagers torched with napalm. She also recounted the agony of making triage decisions that were literally life and death choices. “Put this one on the table; that one can wait!” Another shared the letter written to his sweetheart from the hospital ship bound for home after four brutal years as a Japanese POW. He wrote, “My darling, I’m free, free to live, free to laugh, free to love again…”
Dreams and meditation are proving to be rich new opportunities to listen to that “still, small voice within”. I am learning to attend to dreams; I notice that there are recurring themes and interesting insights encoded there. I find myself looking forward to the next issue in the dream series. Quilting has become my moving meditation, generating voices from the past and dreams for the future.
So there you have it. No more “in one ear and out the other” for me! I will listen to my family, friends, lovers, teachers- those still with me and those remembered. I believe in listening!
Judith J. Kent 12/8/06
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