We sit in a small group – 10 of us. Most of us have never met the others, and yet here we are – waiting to share some of the hardest things about who we are.  Our guide has a small bracelet of beads, and she passes it to her left, giving the totem of voice to her neighbor.  We all listen – for four minutes – as she tells her stories.

That first four minutes seem like eternity.509089704

But as time moves, as I listen, sink into the stories, hear them without thinking about how I can get my turn because I know my turn is coming, I find myself easing down, settling in. I feel as if I am reading.

Then, my turn. For four minutes, 9 other human beings sat listening to only me.  It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

***

A friend shares her story of assault.  Another friend tells.  Another.  Me.  Over and over the ways that men have abused, accosted, violated or harassed us.  We tag the stories with #yesallwomen, but we could as well be shouting – HEAR ME!!

Some people choose to not listen, to make up new tags to defend themselves, to challenge even the stories with questions of responsibility.

There is a time for defense, for discussion, for argument even. But that time is not when people are sharing, opening, baring.  No, then, then we must listen.

***

One of the many lessons I’m taking from the National Gathering of Coming to the Table is this – listening is the first step to healing, the first strong, powerful move toward change.  

Listening is hard. It requires us to put ourselves aside, to open the richest part of ourselves to others’ stories, to accept them as true and real, even when we disagree or cannot understand.

The best metaphor I know for this kind of deep-hearted listening is the act of reading, where we allow ourselves to be taken on a journey, open ourselves up to another’s story, and drop into it ready for wherever the path takes us.

I’m making up my mind to be a story listener more than I am a story teller because my stories – OUR stories – are so much more rich when we listen with the wide open awareness that not every story is ours to share or to live.

When have you had the experience of being really hard? What did that experience do for you?