To listen. As our modern world defines it, it is the act of attending with one’s ears, and so scrupulously has it been defined with no room for conceptual thinking, that it is hard to suggest otherwise. But is there not some other way to hear the words of another without ever having to use our ears? A form of hearing what others have to tell when they utter nothing at all? I believe there is such a thing. I believe in the power to hear the stories of others while never “attending with one’s ears”.
During my high school years, I had the opportunity to take part in a class helping special needs children that attended my school. The semester before the class began, my teacher sent a signup sheet around and invited us to sign up. Thinking rather selfishly, I felt no inclination to volunteer. I wanted nothing more than to stay exactly where I was. However, cleverly persuaded, I signed up anyways.
The first day was particularly difficult. We began with the task of pairing up, getting to know one another and presenting to the class what we had learned. It sounded easy enough, or so I thought, until I was paired with a girl named Ingrid. Ingrid was 16, paralyzed from the neck down, but more importantly, she could not talk. Thus, the task at hand seemed impossible. I felt awkward as I tried to have a one-sided conversation with this girl. My words seemed jumbled and frantic as I searched for an unlikely way to gain any insight as to what she was like. Making our first encounter one I tried to forget. However, through this one-on-one interaction and those that were to follow, my outlook began to alter. The awkward feelings I had once encountered ceased to exist and I developed feelings of unconditional love for this incredible girl. I became subconsciously aware of little things she would do to convey her thoughts, the way she would look with questioning eyes, the smile that would light up her face when she was amused, the way she would tilt her head when she wanted to know more, all gave aid to the dialogue she was trying to evoke from her voiceless body.
After a few weeks, we presented to the class again, but for the first time I was not the one telling the story. The words were her words. Though they came from me, they were entirely hers. The connection we formed during our hours of silence taught me to use more than just my ears to hear Ingrid. She helped me finally understand what a person can say and what they cannot say. I can now declare I believe that everyone has a story to tell, it is not always spoken, but if we listen we will hear it, the true meaning of what they wish to say. All we must do is listen.
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