Several years ago I received a surprise phone call from my past. It was late in the evening when the phone rang. The young man on the other end of the line seemed excited that he had found me– that indeed I was the “right” Courtney who shared seventh grade English with him at Kellogg Middle School.
To my embarrassment, I had no idea at the time who this eager young man was. As he updated me on his life, I scanned my mind furiously, searching for a clue. A flash of his face suddenly came to me, and then I remembered his voice–now deeper, of course, but his speech patterns were the same.
After catching up with one another (and my catching up with my own memory), there was a long pause. But this person from my past soon filled it with a surprising message. “I called to say thank you, ” he said, “for being nice to me in English class.” As he took a deep breath, my body remembered how he was taunted in school, how he so clearly struggled to find acceptance from others. My stomach and chest began to feel tight, constricted. He continued, “It meant a lot to me that you were so kind.”
Again, I scoured my mind for details. Did I stop a bully from hitting him? Did I stand up for him when people called him names? I don’t remember doing any of these things. The only thing I remember doing was treating him like a human being.
I am reminded of this story today because I’ve been reflecting quite a lot about the significance of the work that I do. I find myself wondering if, massage not withstanding, my listening and my holding a safe place for others makes an impact. After all, I am not “curing” someone’s ailments or “fixing” their problems. I am just being with them. How powerful, it suddenly occurs to me, that we are human beings. We have the potential to make a great impact on another’s life with our mere presence and attention.
Our kindness can come from our ability to slow down our own lives enough to listen to one another. It’s now becoming clearer to me that simple, authentic listening may well be one of the most powerful tools that we have for healing.