Who are they?
They are the ones who hear our stories, often in bits and pieces like a patchwork quilt. Many times they are not the ones we had planned to tell or even wanted to tell, but each one had the incredible talent for giving our hearts a safe place to settle in that moment. Once settled, our hearts and thoughts coalesced and sometimes without a question being asked, bits and pieces tucked inside formed into words and we spoke them out loud. In the absence of judgment we said what we might not have said otherwise.
The dailyness of our lives can get stacked up inside us like the conveyor belt at the grocery store that halts unexpectedly. The processing of all those things can halt, but though set aside they do not leave us. They wait to be discovered later. Even then they are not always expressed as we sort through them.
We grow up hoping our parents will be listeners. Some of us are blessed to have them be so, but many more of us are not. We hope our best friend will be a listener. We thought they were at the very beginning, but that doesn’t prove true later at times. We hoped our ministry leader or Bible study leader would be a listener, but often disappointment can happen with them as well.
We pass by friends at church or when we are out shopping and they ask us how we are, but they barely listen and our soul remains famished for the one whose eyes will hold our own eyes steadily and truly see us before we risk speaking.
Their identity often surprises us. They may be our barber or hairdresser. We sit in their chair and they touch our head covered with thousands of nerve endings. They run their hands through our hair and we relax. They never fail to ask us how we are and their purpose is to make us look better than we think we look. In those moments, our mouths open and we share random bits of our stories both current and past, painful and frightening, joyful and exciting.
Jayber Crow was one of those listeners, a barber in rural Kentucky, who is the main character in a novel by Wendell Berry of the same name (Jayber Crow).
Jayber described the truth of this:
“But it’s a fact that knowledge comes to barbers, just as stray cats come to milking barns. If you are a barber and you stay in one place long enough, eventually you will know the outlines of a lot of stories, and you will see how the bits and pieces of knowledge fit in. Anything you know about, there is a fair chance you will sooner or later know more about. You will never get the outlines filled in completely, but as I say, knowledge will come. You don’t have to ask. In fact, I have been pretty scrupulous about not asking. If a matter is none of my business, I ask nothing and tell nothing. And yet I am amazed at what I have come to know and how much.”
Jayber had been in one place for many years of time. He had cut the hair of fathers, their sons, and grandsons. For the older ones he noted the conversation was like this: “They were remembering, carrying in their living thoughts all the history…”
Large shops and salons do not lend themselves to being someone’s “regular” oftentimes. But for those who do have that one person who knows how to get the cut and color just right and help us adapt to a new style, we count them as invaluable.
Listeners at times hear and see things they do not wish to. They see changes in health, signs of aging, and more. Most of the time they keep those observations to themselves and bless us in that.
One such experience for Jayber was especially poignantly depicted:
“…one day he comes into your shop and you have heard and you see that he is dying even as he is standing there looking at you, and you can see in his eyes that (whether or not he admits it) he knows it, and all of a sudden everything is changed. You seem no longer to be standing in the center of time. Now you are on time’s edge, looking off into eternity.”
Such listeners did not plan on being those special people who are keepers of the scrapbook of our stories, but it came to them and how blessed we are when we are in the company of a listener.
Few of us are truly listeners if we are honest.
I wonder if one of the things that most attracted so many to Jesus during His earthly ministry was that He was a listener.
Of course we know He spoke life-giving words with power and gentleness, but He listened as well. He not only listened to the words, but also to the hearts and anxious thoughts behind them. He was a safe place for a person to be who they were.
Thank you, Lord, for listeners, whoever they are and wherever they may be. This gift they give is precious indeed. Help each of us to grow in our desire to join them, to become listeners and not just talkers.
(This post is dedicated to all the listeners out there and especially one of my favorites…Molly!)
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