On Listening to Betty

Betty

The most difficult (and yet I suspect one of the most rewarding) part of this year’s internship has been to simply sit with somebody and listen. Yes, it’s been maddeningly difficult with Betty, the lady pictured above.

Ask anybody; I’m a busy, hyper-scheduled guy. But to listen to someone is to really allow yourself to be inconvenienced. To let them stop you in the middle of a busy hall and hear them out, to let someone know that their ramblings about the most inane things really matter to you can really communicate care.

But how many people in our American culture really care to listen to one another? Or are we always running place to place, never stopping long enough to talk and hear each other out? Perhaps we’re too busy shouting over each other.

More often than not, I’m half-listening to Betty and half-plotting my escape from the conversation (she is masterful at grabbing for your ear and not letting go). But what if, as Carol Johnston once told us, we decided to listen, really listen with undivided attention, until the other person has nothing left to say?

Betty and I have this love-hate relationship. I think she fights with me more than any other person. “I feel like you just want to dump me off at my place, like a piece of trash” she snarled at me one week. I was so pissed. But it’s true; when I talk to her I dream of not talking to her. I don’t value her opinions like I would a friend’s. (And she smells).

But I’ve been challenged to listen to her and see past her toxicity and defenses. Love can cover a multitude of (my obnoxious) sins. I sat down with her one afternoon and did my best to hear her out for an hour. She was so pleasant that it scared me. People are saying that she’s changing. Maybe it’s because some people in my community are really making an effort to sit down with her, share a meal, give a ride, and lend an ear.

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