This I Believe

Jamie - Ann Arbor, Michigan
Entered on March 15, 2007

Conversations Can Heal

I believe that conversations can shape our existence.

It was a Thursday evening, right before M.A.S.H was scheduled to come on TBS, when I asked my dad if he had killed anyone in the war. His careful response to me over carrot cake and two scoops of ice cream altered the lens through which I viewed the world. Those pointed words that galloped through my eleven-year old brain and spilled out onto the dessert tray became seeds that would be cultivated and ripen into the greatest harvest I could imagine: conversations.

I believe the most respectful thing we can do for each other as human beings is to listen with an open heart and an open mind. For the first time, my dad began talking about his service as a combat marine in Vietnam. Stories of pulling leeches off each other’s back after bathing in the river, smoking Dutchmaster cigars to keep the bugs away and laughing at Crazy Charlie’s hippy posters tacked up on the latrine illuminated our relationship. To listen is to honor experience and existence.

I keep these stories with me as a way to stay conscious, reflective and empathetic. As a writing teacher, I am devoted to listening to my students as a way to connect with them and build trust. I value our conversations more than any cumulative test score, book review or essay exam.

Conversations with my students have become the elements of my most profound life experiences; they are incarcerated and often viewed by society as broken and wasted. We spend our days together talking and listening, trying to recover the writer’s voice within them.

I believe conversations can heal.

Sometimes I see slivers of my life in their words: their questions, their curiosity, their struggles. I hear my dad’s voice guiding me patiently, reassuring me that I am exactly where I need to be.