One day this week I "worked" all over Lawrence County and Phil Campbell, Alabama and all I really did was listen. I listened to people as they told their story. And I said, "I am so sorry. How can I help you?" And as simple as that sounds, I do believe it helped.
One good ole' country boy told me "Thank you for coming. It's good to have moral support, a pat on the back, and somebody to talk to. Otherwise you might just explode and have an ulcer or heart attack if you keep it stuffed all in. When you don't talk about it it will make you sick." (he was more graphic than this!)
Ahhh. Wisdom from the sticks of Alabama! I love it!
Who knew that simply listening and chatting and caring might be such a huge gift? My entire life I've been criticized and teased for my ability to strike up a conversation with almost anyone. Today it actually seemed to come in handy!
I remember a traumatic experience I went through a few years ago where afterwards I was told that a trauma victim needs to tell their story 3,000 times to heal. I remember feeling quite hopeless. Here I was, diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and as far as I could tell, no one wanted to hear my story ONCE, much less 3,000 times! One day a friend from out of town joined me for lunch and said "Jan, I've heard a little of what happened, but will you tell me your entire story?"
And so I unloaded on him the whole sorry tale. The feelings. The fears. The worries. The ugliness. And I will never forget how he listened so patiently and asked good questions and then he took my hand and with tears in his eyes he said, "I'm so sorry. That is horrible." It was a pivotal and healing moment in my journey forward because for the very first time I felt fully heard. He didn't try to correct or fix, he just listened, empathized, and loved. He did not diminish my pain, but instead he honored the reality of it. This was something that had been missing for me.
I found out later that following the disaster of Hurricane Katrina (a natural disaster) and the Rwandan Genocide ( a man initiated violent event) they sent in people JUST TO LISTEN. To hear the stories. To pat a back. To acknowledge the pain and the horror of the situation. And to eventually encourage and empathize. Apparently people will not heal if they cannot share what has happened to them.
The powers that be have catagorized this tornadic event - 25 tornadoes hitting hundreds of places killing hundreds of people destroying thousands of homes - a Catagory 1 Disaster. That means it is on the same level as Katrina and 9/11! So this is a hugely traumatic event and it happened right here in our backyard. In the state we love. Among people we love.
So when you're going about your day, don't just complete your task - don't just use your chainsaw or put up your tarp or even get started back at work - but instead pause for a few moments and ask for someone's story and let them share their pain, their fear, their hope, their confusion, their blessings. We all need to share what we've gone through, even if our family is safe and our house is left standing.
So listen and remember this. No fixing, or correcting or teaching or preaching. Just listening. Whether it's the woman who waits on you in Dollar General or the person whose house you are helping with, or a friend, take time to listen. It helps us process and move forward. And it connects us to one another. In the end it's the stories we remember.
And we all want to know that our stories matter.
A listening ear is a gift! And it's free! Use yours tomorrow!