DUNN: Simply listening can make a difference

Features column

“No one would listen anyway.”

That is what the lady at the lake said as my family and I walked past her and asked “How are you?”

I whispered to my family, “Did you hear what she said?” Those words fell upon my ears in such a way that put me ill at ease. Immediately thoughts about what that woman might have going on flooded my mind. Thoughts about what those things might be that she needed someone — anyone — to just listen.

I was a bit shaken. I could tell that this woman had been drinking and that caused me to feel a little apprehensive initially. I kept walking. I told my family to keep going and to just keep an eye out. They encouraged me to do what they knew was in me to do.

My fears subsided. I paused in my tracks. I took a deep breath and I turned around. I was now in the path of oncoming walkers and joggers trying to make my way back to the lady. As I made my way back, I was praying to myself. “Just order my steps.”

I reached the spot where she stood leaning over the rail of the deck looking out at the water. I said to her, “I will listen.” She turned around and when she saw that I had returned she smiled and laughed. She, still skeptical of the existence of people of who genuinely care, said to me, “You must be a therapist or some kind of counselor. What is your profession?”

I laughed it off with her, evading the comment and the question. Although I was not a therapist at that time, I knew I was in my heart. In that moment, I just wanted to be a pair of ears and an open mind, so I replied with a smile, “I am just me and I’m listening.”

She talked for about an hour. It had grown dark and the water now reflected the light from the lamp posts that towered above. My family had finished their walk and was waiting for me.

Without warning, “Ms. Lady” walked up to me and embraced me. She hugged me for what seemed like another hour. She shed tears and whispered in my ear. “You are an angel. You don’t know how much you helped me. Thank you. Thank you.”

I knew that I had not done anything, except for … listening. As it turned out, that was all she needed.

That one experience was chock full of food for thought, but there was one thing that stood out to me most. It was how routinely we utter the words “How are you doing?” as a way to greet one another that we do so while passing right by each other. Not pausing for a response.

“Ms. Lady” challenged that habitual act of courtesy that day I uttered those words to her. She challenged me to think about the real meaning those words carry. They come together to form a question that warrants a response. Sometimes that response will be a simple, “I am fine or I am doing well, thank you”, but sometimes the response will be—an opportunity for you to listen.

I challenge you to not remain a creature of habitual courtesies.

Be encouraged.

Email columnist LaTonya Dunn at ln_dunn@yahoo.com.