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Listen, because it's important

Jessie Veeder, Coming Home columnist.

I'm sitting in the airport in Minneapolis waiting for a flight to take me up and out of this city, back home to resume life as normal.

I came for a conference meant to connect people from all walks of life and give us the tools to start a conversation about acceptance, inclusion and understanding as we work to build our communities together — all of those things that start with a story and hover around an open mind.

It's interesting to reflect on this in an airport where all of these lives in bodies converge, touch, talk, brush by one another, hold on to the same railing and sit side by side, knees nearly touching, everyone carrying the weight of their own world on their way to the sky.

So close, but we're strangers.

I like to sit in places like these because I can be anonymous and sort of invisible if I want to be. My life in a small town doesn't offer me that very often, even though last week I wished I were as I was sitting in road construction traffic for nearly an hour with a screaming baby in the back, giving into my urge to scream too and bang my fists on the steering wheel, as if that were going to change anything about my situation.

Yesterday, as part of one of our workshops, we were tasked to stand in front of a stranger and talk for one minute while the other person just listened under the assumption that we are an amazing person.

It was one of those exercises that make even the most confident person sort of squirm. It was uncomfortable. I was self-conscious. A 60-second pointless ramble to a person I will likely never see again. I just wasn't convinced.

But something shifted when it was my turn to listen and her turn to speak. I fought my urge to ask questions, to relate, to say "me too," or "tell me more about that" or ask her how she's doing now.

We did the exercise three or four more times, sharing different parts of our stories with different strangers, and I left there exhausted but a bit enlightened. When's the last time I gave someone, a friend or a stranger, the good grace of simply listening, without remark or request?

We want to know about community and how to build it. We want to know peace and how to find it. We want friendship and love and hope and healing. We buy the books and the movies and podcasts and take a plane to a big, unfamiliar city where we can disappear from our real lives for a moment.

But we weren't meant to hide our stories. Hard or unnerving, collected or entertaining, we can only help ourselves if we spill those stories out into the world like baby Rosie's wails in my car that day, filling up the space with the certainty of her existence, willing me not to wail back and pound my fists the way I did, but to hear her.

And then scoop her up in my arms.