Learning to Listen

Today's UPI column

So There I was...
Standing at the deli counter of our local Safeway. I was on a quick dinner break from seeing counseling clients at my Salem office. It had been an intense day, and looked to be an intense evening, so my agenda was to get some food with a minimum of human interaction. Funny how often the universe ignores my agenda.

I was waiting for my corned beef on rye, when a woman wafted my way. I say wafted, because despite being a rather large woman, she was dressed head to foot in flowing saffron silk, and was literally dancing her way across the Safeway towards me. Now, our local Safeway is a little divergent. In our neighborhood there are several group homes for people with unusual realities; so seeing these good folks at the store is nothing strange. I know many of the regulars by sight. What was strange was that this woman seemed very interested in me. She danced up to me. I quietly turned the other way. She flitted around me. I gazed off into the distance. She looked me up and down. I ignored her, using all my willpower in an attempt to get the sandwich girl to hurry.

The saffron woman said, “How very unusual!” I glanced at her, unable to control my thoughts about pots and kettles. I looked away.

“Excuse me,” she said, “You're not from around here, are you?” I assure you, in my business attire, I looked local and mundane.

“I live nearby” I said, and turned away.

“No, I mean you come from somewhere else, don't you?” I stopped trying to avoid her.

“I was raised in Illinois” I said, starting to wonder if I went to high school or something with this crazy woman.

“That's not what I meant, and I think you know it. Do you know who you remind me of?”

Exasperated, I replied, “No, tell me who I remind you of.”

She grinned. “Well, there's this book, you may have heard of it, it's called The Bible. And you remarkably favor a woman in that book. Her name was Judith. You look like Judith to me, well, Judith with a little bit of Bath-Sheeba, but don't worry about that bit.” Then without explaining herself further, the saffron woman floated away. I have never seen her since then. I took my corned beef and went flying back to my office to grab a Bible. Judith has her own book in the Apocrypha. She’s a cool woman when she isn’t decapitating people. If you don’t know the story, I encourage you to read it. It’s quick and good.

After this encounter I got to thinking about whose testimony I accept and whose testimony I reject -- especially if they want to talk to me about me. I mean, I like self-definition. I am a full-grown post-modern, post feminist, American woman -- nobody tells me who or what I am. If I want feedback, I’ll ask for it, but don’t hold your breath or quit your day job. In my old age I have learned that I do need a check-in once in a while, and so I have gathered a small group of people that I trust, and I seek their advice on a regular basis.

The criteria to belong to this group are:
1- I choose you -- not the other way around.
2- You must be smart.
3- I must respect you.
4- You have to like and respect me.

Unasked for advice from dumb, crazy, or unrespectable people who don’t necessarily appreciate me will not be entertained. Well, that’s my standard attitude, if I am honest. Funny how often God likes to mess with my standard attitude. Funny how a reality challenged individual can sometimes speak the truth straight to my heart. And if they can speak God’s voice to me, what about the person across the room or the table? What do I lose by not listening?

A year or two after this I had another encounter with another person who would not be considered to be a trustworthy witness by most people. I was doing some traveling preaching out in eastern Washington State. I was at a potluck dinner, conversing with the folks. There was a fellow there who physically did not stand out in any way; middle-aged, working class or maybe not-working-enough class. He took me aside.

“Peggy, you may find this hard to believe, but I am the Holy Spirit.”
“Really, wow, that’s gotta be a tough gig.”
“You’re telling me!”
“Friend, you have told your doctor about this – right?”
“Oh yeah, mostly he doesn’t believe me.”
“Yes, I can see how that would be a problem. So what’s it like being the Holy Spirit?”
“Oh, I go to a lot of churches – mostly they don’t listen to me. I went to the White House once, but they didn’t listen to me either. But I keep talking to ‘em even when they don’t listen. It’s part of the job.”
“Well, thanks. Hey, anything you need to say to me?”
“You? Oh, your doin’ just fine. Don’t worry about a thing.”
“Thanks – really? – Thanks, I mean it.”

I must say, I'll probably steal the phrase "unusual realities" for use at some point. It fits about half the people I know, and most of my students, who are all early adolescents. Which about says it all.

Great story.
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