Nicest Skill: Resolve To Listen



It's that infamous time of year when some of us try to remember the resolutions we made when Father Time was not yet out of diapers a bare 12 months ago.

A 6' 6" tall friend shared in his Christmas letter that, although he "went to the gym 267 times in 2006, he was 266 pounds when he started, 268 pounds in July and 269 on Dec. 15."

Now I don't feel so bad about my 2006 resolution to "live a healthier lifestyle."

In fact, I feel pretty good about it.

And I did not even have to go to the gym once, although I did step foot inside the Payson Athletic Club in pursuit of several articles.

I am taking a dance class and I did do water aerobics -- both more frequently at the beginning of the year.

Back in September, I resolved to give up fast food, a resolution I have kept better than the dancing (two left feet, 10 right toes) or swimming.

The ‘healthier lifestyle' was what motivational speakers might call a ‘baby step.'

Since Wendy's and KFC have not gone out of business for lack of my patronage and I am not missing the taste of fast food, that resolution has a fair chance of making the lifestyle category.

Dance I find relaxing, so that should be an easy resolution.

Harder, is my resolve to really listen and not form such a quick opinion.

Listening shouldn't be just part of the job, it is one of the nicest skills a human being can possess.

Of course, we all speak with more than words, hence, the books aplenty demystifying body language.

But sometimes when we speak, it takes more than a moment to get the point across.

I have to wonder, what curious bit of story have I breezed right over in pursuit of the questions I know I must get answered.

Then there are the times we listen just long enough to hear what we want to hear and follow it with a snap judgment.

There was a special book day Wal-Mart chose to celebrate four or five years ago.

I was reading stories from books they sold and had bought a favorite poetry book from my own childhood.

I was in the midst of reading

"We set around the kitchen fire an' has

the mostest fun

A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie

tells about,

An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you

Ef you




when the mother of the two children listening interrupted, with a glare directed at me and said, "We're leaving now."

The poem is James Whitcomb Riley's "Little Orphant Annie," a morality poem he wrote in 1885.

Annie is a fun, scary romp meant, among other things, to get children to "mind yer parents and yer teachers fond and dear" and to "cherish them 'at loves you and dry the orphans tear."

It is one of the first poems my Papa ever read to me.

My daughter recited it at two-and-a-half.

It is full of alliteration and sound effects, told partially from a servant's point of view.

I assume my exposing her children to "gobble-uns" offended her.

But neither did I take the time to ask and listen to her response, nor did she take the time to listen to the whole poem.

I wonder how the conversation might have gone.

My cynical side says badly.

My optimistic side reminds me, using another line from Annie, that helping "the poor and needy ones ‘at clusters all about," is what happens daily in this community -- you can pick up any paper and see that fact, so maybe we would have listened to one another.

I could have told her about one of Riley's poems I was in the process of memorizing about fall on a farm, "When the Frost is on the Punkin'."

Surely, time taken to really listen, creates mental health, not for just one human being, but two or three or four or ......

I hear my dance teacher Valerie calling. It's time to let go of the day, listen to the music and listen to her now.

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