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Friday, February 4, 2011

Listen Up


All those folks I dearly love, like, tolerate, can barely stand to be in the same room with, and some I only love because Jesus wasn’t kidding when HE said I have to love them, have one, to me, major fault in common. They don’t listen! Have you ever carefully tried to relate some piece of information to someone only to hear it repeated totally wrong? I’m not talking about teaching, here. Of course, sometimes they think they have listened but just had a brain short circuit.

One time, at a funeral home, visiting with the rest of the family before the service, an older lady cousin, asked about my Dee and what sort of job she had. I don’t think she really was listening when I told her ” Dee is a Paralegal.” She replied ” Oh, I have a friend at the courthouse whose son is a Paraplegic.” I had to cough hard, cover my mouth, and rush to another room, I was so tickled. Later,  seated for the funeral, next to my brother, Bob, he asked if I was OK and what had happened a few minutes before? I quickly whispered my little story so then he got tickled. He was a really tall, broad man and knew if he actually laughed, they’d hear him across the street. So he sat with his handkerchief across his face as if he was crying. His wife, my husband, and cousin Frank knew we had the giggles but don’t think anyone else did. Later, at the cemetery, thankfully after the brief service, Frank whispered to me and said, ”Ok, tell me what was so darn funny.” When I told him, he laughed out loud before he could stop himself. Now my very smart lady cousin knew perfectly well that she’d misspoken, but her brain played a funny trick on her.

I try to be a good listener, but sometimes I listen too well. I still have problems watching and hearing a person walking around talking to themselves out loud.  It started while I still lived in Augusta, more than 5 years ago. I had not seen the newer, tiny cell phones that are fitted right on the ear. I was grocery shopping, in the produce section, at Publix. A youngish middle-aged man was talking to the fruit. Yes, he was! He’d pick up an orange, look at it, chat with it a minute, then return it to the bin. I couldn’t get quite close enough to hear all he said but a time or two, he seemed to argue with it. Then he moved on to the vegetables. When he picked up the cucumber, I nearly lost it. I was having a fit to follow him to the fresh meat section, wondering what he’d have to say to the pork chops. But alas, he’d started giving me dirty looks so my plan to ask him if he’d say a few words to my bunch of turnip greens kind of fell through.

Both of my grandchildren are very bright but there are times when only I know that. They don’t listen to me all the times. It took me some time to remember to look at them and see if they had “earbuds” in. Something as simple as, please go get the mail and pick up that trash by the driveway, is met with a total, blank stare, and no movement at all. Only then do I walk around to their side and see strange things sticking out of their ears. I don’t know if those things go all the way through their brains or if they just meet in the middle. One interesting part of that is, if the kid kind of jiggles or hitches his or her bottom up and down I know there’s brain activity. I hope to heaven some substitute for real music is causing this and not bedbugs.

I’ve listened to many sermons, but one in particular will never be forgotten.

First, some background. When I was growing up, we usually went to Sunday School and Church, on Sunday morning. Then, after we moved back to Atlanta, we often went on Sunday night, also. We were members of First Baptist but on Sunday nights, my dad liked to go to First Methodist to hear his old baseball pal, Dr. Pierce Harris, preach. Dr. Harris most often had a little interesting or funny story included in his sermon. If he spotted Dad, he always introduced him from the pulpit so folks who wanted to could visit with Dad, after church.  From the time I was a young teen-ager, I sang in church choirs all over town. As I got older, of course, I did lots of solo work. My point is that I heard lots and lots of sermons. And, without really realizing it, I trained myself to ignore the sermons, just tune them out. Sometimes, I’d even plan what I was going to think about during the sermon. I think lots of folks do that and if sermons are so dull, who can blame them!

My parents, aunt and uncle, and lots of their friends, sat in the front quarter, right side, of our church. One Sunday, a really tall, kind of horse faced, Georgia Tech professor (Dr. Adams) got settled down for his “sermon nap” and just went right to sleep. Things were kind of quiet for a moment. Then Dr. Adams started a long, very loud snore that sounded like a train engine chugging over logs!  Of course, he woke himself up to the laughter of half the church, even the pastor lost it. Mrs. Adams was offered lots of sympathy for all her years of sleeping with that guy.  Thankfully, the sermons at our little Episcopal Church are usually interesting and quite good.

In the Episcopal church there is an unspoken sort of rule that sermons do not go over 10-15 minutes. My husband used to like to usher in church, and he’d glare at the priest and tap his watch if the sermon went too long. Of course, the priest usually ignored him. Tony listened, but only up to a point.

Listening to someone else is not just a physical act, it’s simple courtesy. We all need to remember that. When I was young, I remember reading somewhere that Good Manners are essentially just kindness. There is surely much truth there. My dad had beautiful manners and I think they could be traced, primarily to his concern for others. He sat at the head of our table and never took the first bite or sip of anything until he’d made sure that everyone was served, even when it was just our family. He also listened carefully, and responded thoughtfully. I believe that his innate kindness was passed on to my brother, and yes, to our children.