The Courage to Listen

As you can see, I have neglected this blog, though not my writing in general, as other types of writing have consumed my time.  That academic time consumption is a part of this entry – though it may not be visible to the reader – it led to a diverting of attention. That mental and physical focus is in need of alignment so that it might fall closer to the mid line between professional and personal. Today’s post is an attempt to reconnect to things of value.

As celebratory times come upon us, the bitter-sweetness of missing beloveds is most acute. I sat recently in the audience of a speech delivered by my oldest child. As she began, my anxiety was high. It was as if she stood on the verge of a busy road and I was too far away to judge the traffic flow or put my arm out to block her from stepping into its path.  I was forced to trust that her instincts and experience would keep her safe, hopefully even drive her success. Ironically, it was this idea of trust with which she began her talk. From her perspective, I had revealed my trust in her by outwardly supporting her decision to leave a coveted college slot when her inner voice compelled her to do so:

That fall, as I moved into my dorm…, I immediately knew something was
wrong — I wasn’t in the right place. My parents, bless them, trusted that I
would make the right decision, even though I know they were probably
terrified I was ruining my life by giving up a scholarship and countless other
opportunities…. I won’t belabor the point, but I did listen to
my gut, and I did leave, before orientation…had even ended — and
it was the right decision….

I settled in to listen, no longer anxious of her well-being, but marveling at her ability to tap into just what her audience seemed to need from her:

As a child and arguably still as an adult, I am naturally a very introverted,
and even shy, person….If I could…, I would be a forever student….So, naturally, I went straight into graduate school…. I was nervous to begin…, and that natural feeling of uncertainty poked at me— all of those other people are so successful! how can I ever compare! … As I navigated what to do after graduate school, I felt stuck— moorless, even. Who am I if I’m not a student? What do I do now?

As she continued, my pride grew, but so did a creeping melancholy. I was relieved that my husband was taking photos, as I sat mesmerized by the conflicting emotions filling my heart. Pride – for I’d had a hand in producing this human who connected to the world with integrity and passion. Love – for I glimpsed the little girl I remembered embedded in this woman. Respect – for I admired the fearlessness of her self-revelation. Sadness – for I knew that there were others, missing, who would have reveled in this moment with me.

My mother, dead these past five years, saw this potential from the moment of her first grandchild’s birth and I would have given much to have seen her face at this verification of her vision. The void where her joy and pride would have been, crashed into me and the wave threatened to sweep me right out of the happy present. But then the words broke through:

…enjoy where you are right now, in this moment. Be excited about your future, but also enjoy your present. Even if things don’t go the way you envisioned at first…You will be just fine.

And I let my child teach me; I returned to the moment and embraced all of the emotions as right, and worthy, and true. It was, after all, part of her message that the trials of life were where growth began:

…remember to stay curious. Don’t be afraid to not know something…knowledge truly begins at the moment you realize how much you don’t know.

And it made sense – or at least, several hours later, it did. Even five years on, I am still learning how to reconcile the discordant emotions of joy and sadness. Just keep moving forward; Mom wasn’t missing the moment; she was living within it. A part of every delivered word. I heard her voice from her granddaughter’s mouth when she encouraged the audience to “read voraciously” and “express a genuine interest in people.” And most of all in her exhortation on “the importance of a well-crafted…written correspondence,” and to “please be kind to each another.”

Though it is difficult not to turn to Mom and enjoy these glorious moments in the corporeal sense, it is deeply satisfying to know that I can feel her presence if I am just able to acknowledge it.

Thanks, daughter, for the wondrous gifts you continue to bestow. I strive to be courageous and worthy enough to receive them.


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