TIME TO LISTEN
There’s a lot of noise in the world right now; firecrackers, gun shots, sirens, people yelling at each other, dogs barking, horns honking. Today is no different. Today is hard, I feel a million miles away from my center, the weight of the world is heavy on me, and my fears about the future are palpable. I feel like it’s all too much and there’s nothing I can do that will make a difference. Temperatures are rising, oceans are swelling, people are dying from this out of control virus, my children are scared and I wish I had answers, democracy is crumbling, and I am alone. At least I have my dog.
I can hear a woman in her yard yelling and I look out my window. I see a cop car, which is not a welcome thing for people in Minneapolis right now. I’ve heard yelling from this house before, several times. I can feel the pain in this woman’s voice. Thankfully the squad car leaves and she is sitting alone in her yard, yelling after them, something about “slaves to the government”, and then she quiets down. I’m uneasy and I feel that it’s just a lull in her storm. My own storm swirls in me.
Wilbur and I get geared up to go outside. I’m drawn to her by a force outside myself. I start walking down the street in her direction and call out to her, “Are you okay?” “No” she says. “Do you want to talk?” I ask. She pauses, and then says “Yes”, perhaps a little surprised by her own answer. I ask her if she is okay with dogs and she welcomes us over into her yard. She is locked out of her apartment and doesn’t know what to do.
She tells me her name; I will call her Lily. It's 9am and I can smell the liquor on her breath from 6 feet away. I remember back to my training at the Women’s Prison, the words from the trainer telling us that the women there have probably never had anyone speak kindly to them, which was a harsh reality to absorb. This is not a prison situation, but the words pop into my head and I decide that all there is to do here is to be kind. It is a simple thing, really, to be kind, to sit and listen. I let her talk, knowing that there is nothing I can say that will change her situation, but I can create space for her energy to evolve. Her voice calms.
She says she can tell that I see her. “No one else sees me, but you do”, she tells me. She is right, I do see her. Another training comes to mind, from a Rape Advocacy session. Often times a victim doesn’t need answers, they just need to be heard. No fixes, just bear witness to their humanity. My own pain is on the surface as I listen to her story of being trafficked for sex as a child. I share with her the tiniest of details to let her know that I understand, and then I shut up. This isn’t about me, it’s about her. She doesn’t need to hear my story; she needs a witness to hers.
Her battle with the disease of alcoholism is killing her pancreas. She is the same age as my oldest son, twenty-eight, and she is dying, or will die if she doesn’t stop. She is beautiful under her shroud of pain and I tell her so. Her face lightens a little and I wonder if anyone has ever said such words to her and meant them, not to manipulate, but merely to state fact. I think not.
After we have sat there for a while, her petting Wilbur as he sniffs around her, I ask her what she needs. “A drink” she says. I will not provide her with that. I can see her shivering and ask if she needs a sweater, but she says she's not cold. I suggest something to eat, she shakes her head no, she doesn’t think she would be able to keep that down; she is going through withdrawals. I’m aware that sweets are often in abundance in rehab so I suggest chocolate, and her face lightens up more. I tell her I’ll be back. Being who I am, I always have some chocolate on hand, so I grab a couple options. As I come back into her yard, she turns to me with surprise. “You came back” she says in awe, “I didn’t think you would come back, I thought you were long gone.” I said, “Of course I came back, I said I would.” She truly looks shocked, and I wonder how many times this young woman has been let down. Countless, I’m sure.
I’m able to help her get back onto her apartment and I hand her the chocolate. I look into her eyes, they are wide and she is listening. “Take care of yourself,” I say, “you deserve to be treated well, you deserve to be healthy, you deserve to be loved.” She looks like she might believe it, at least for the moment.
When I woke up this morning, I was in utter despair. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I’ve been having a difficult time seeing anything good in the world. And then I met Lily.