This I Believe

Bill - Prior Lake, Minnesota
Entered on February 14, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: family

This I Believe – Take Time to Listen

I believe in listening, listening to people. And in giving people a chance to tell their stories. We are not alone on this planet, and the best way to get to know our neighbors is by listening – to their stories.

My grandmother asked me just days before she died if my new house would have room for a garden. “Yes, Gram”, I said, “we have five acres and we’ll definitely have a garden.” Gram lived on a small, city-sized lot for decades. And she gardened on about one-third of it – every day. I suppose this gave her time to think about the stories of her life. Here she was, 93 years old, and still gardening!

When I was a kid, I’d go to Gram’s house about once a week to cut the grass and do other odd chores like change a ceiling light bulb or put on the window screens. I even helped out in the garden. And when I was finished with my chores there, Gram would offer me a glass of 7-UP and some Oreo cookies, or maybe homemade rhubarb dessert (not a good combination with 7-UP, trust me). Then, we’d sit and visit.

She’d want to know just how life was for me and what I was doing to assure my future success. Gram always praised my efforts, no matter how small. Then she’d tell me a story from her younger days. Maybe it was a story about taking the bus through a blizzard to get to the hospital where she worked, or maybe it was about how she lived through the tornado that destroyed her family home. Whatever the story, I listened. And in listening, I learned about my grandmother, who she was and what her values were. The more I listened, the more I came to respect and admire her.

It wasn’t until today, as I wrote this essay, that I realized that Gram was teaching me how to listen. She was teaching me the value of giving people a chance to tell their stories. I admit that, if it hadn’t been her, my beloved grandmother, I likely wouldn’t have taken the time to listen to her. But now I’m so glad I did.

I believe that when I take time to listen to other people’s stories, I learn that we’re much more alike than we are different. I discover common experiences and feelings I share with them. Whether I agree or disagree with people, when I listen to their stories, I may have a better chance of learning to live in peace with them. And at the very least, when I learn the stories of others, I tend not to judge them. And, if I do catch myself judging someone, I will hopefully stop and ask, “What’s their story?”

Gram said it best: “Sometimes we forget that we do not stand alone.”