“The first duty of love, is to listen.” — Paul Tillich
In September 2002, Heather Whetstone, who had been the first deaf Miss America, had cochlear implant surgery which allowed her to hear again. When they turned the device on, she had to begin the complicated process of learning to hear, something she hadn’t done since she was a small child.
I remember watching her being interviewed on television the very next day, day two of being a hearing person. She described little sounds she was able to identify. She said she was in the bathroom and heard the sounds of putting on makeup and spraying her hair. Then, she turned the water on. She said, “And it was the most beautiful sound. It reminded me of my hero Helen Keller. She felt the water and understood that it had a name. My joy was like that.”
I want to remember to find the joy in small things — waking refreshed in the morning, good nutritious food, a body that is healthy and works in all its parts. I want to linger on the goodness in my day instead of focus and obsess on the petty annoyances and frustrations. I want to practice seeing the beauty in people who cross my path rather than picking out their flaws.
I also want to refresh my skills in the art of listening. The past couple of weeks a parade of young people needing love and guidance have marched through my office. They have frustrated me, they have fought my efforts to assist them, they have worked hard to keep me at arm’s length. I don’t blame them for that — I’m an administrator sticking my nose into their business, into the parts of their lives they would prefer no one even notice. But I need to remember to hear what lies beneath the surface. Sue Patton Thoele says, “Deep listening is miraculous for both listener and speaker. When someone receives us with open-hearted, non-judging, intensely interested listening our spirits expand.” I think we all want this, for ourselves and others!
If, as Paul Tillich says, the first duty of love is to listen, then I must try to do my duty. Listen closely enough to shut out the distractions and ambient noise so I can focus on what is important. In other words, listen with my ears to what is being spoken, but hear with my heart what is being said.