We all need to work on being better listeners. There are many resources to help you become a better listener. I’ve read them, practiced and strive to be a better listener.
But I’ve also had to work on being a good interrupter.
I spend time visiting older men and women who don’t get out much, who don’t have many people to talk to, who we classify as “homebound.” We no longer call them “shut-ins.” No one likes that descriptor.
Anyway, when I stop by to visit, it’s a chance for them to talk. Many homebound folks have mastered the art of talking with no periods. That is, every statement, every thought, every story is followed by a comma or semicolon, leading to the next story, thought or statement.
Let me give you an example.
“When my brother came to visit me last week…he’s from Ohio, the town where we grew up…it wasn’t a big town…my mom and dad met there at the church my grandfather built…the church only had five members when they started…my grandfather used to live out in the country but moved into town when the new factory opened…a factory that fabricated sheet metal…it was a real good job…most of my brothers worked there…my one brother met his wife there…she worked in the office, handling orders…the orders would come in from all over…she worked the switchboard, too…until they changed phone companies…I don’t get many phone calls now…my son said we get too many sales calls…I don’t really buy much any more…I remember when my aunt would take me into the city to go shopping…I don’t know if that trolley is running any more…”
You have to listen. Nod and smile. An occasional “oh?” And sometimes, “Really?” They have all the time in the world. You have a few other folks to visit.
What do you do? What will you do?
First, just be patient. Just listen. Someday you will relish those moments when someone comes to visit you. Pay it forward.
Second, be present. Just listen. You’ve gained entrance into a live well-lived. Learn from their experience and narration. You’ll be better for it.
Third, catch a word. “Factory.” “Brother.” “Trolley.” Catch a word and make it part of your own sentence. Step into the conversation. Hop on board.
Their words are the wave you want to catch. You’re listening but also riding the wave. You direct the conversation to the moment, the present and that place.
“I remember my mom taking me to ride the trolley…I’ll bet you miss getting out and around…”
“Tell me about your brother…”
You can ask questions that subtly take control of the conversation and bring a visit to an end. Yes, everything has a beginning and an end. That’s OK.
There is an art to interrupting. Listen carefully. Listen carefully for an opening. Listen carefully for that opening that will fill the emptiness in their lives. Be blessed by the conversations that fill your soul, too.