I have a love/hate/do- you-even-exist? relationship with what I think of, respectfully, as The Great Mystery. Mostly, I don't believe in God, except when I am listening to someone with a kind of deep listening that gets me out of the way.
This happened last week at the seder, as I mentioned before, with a couple whose little daughter is caught in war torn Iraq. Listening to them, holding the mother as she cried, was not about me, or my pain, or my solutions. It was about them, about her, about allowing her to safely have her grief. Grief can be so hard to feel alone. It is so much better shared. I was--at times like that I feel--as though I am a stand-in for God, a conduit for love. I am simply the hands that hold the pain.
Last week, I ran into a woman at the grocery story. We have spoken before, at length, honestly. (I'm very bad at small talk, so mostly, I speak honestly.) She asked how I was, and I told her: I have a child with a disability. Today, it's rough. Today, I'm scared for my child. Today, I think I'm doing the parent thing very badly.
And I felt--just for that instant, so much better. I felt connected, through her listening, to my own pain. I didn't have to run from it. I didn't have to fix it. It could just be there. I could just be there with it, with her. I felt a moment of calm, of stillness. I felt--witnessed.
And then, she opened her mouth. To give me advice. This thing would take care of my child's disability, she said. And when I tried to explain that she didn't understand the situation, she told me another solution. And then another, all with a warm smile and a listening face, though every word showed how little she understood the problem.
And just like that, the rest I had felt, that moment of breath, of lightening, was gone.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not against advice. Sometimes, we need fixing. Sometimes, people have information that will save the day. And yet--how challenging it is to know when to fix and when to listen. How often we should remember--not just with pain, but in political discussions, when speaking to someone who is trying to proselytize, and even in the confusions of daily living--that listening, in and of itself, holds such power.