*Afterthought #51 – Listening as an Act of Love

I’m continuing to read and enjoy Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work, the latest book from StoryCorps that I reviewed in my previous post, The Perfect Pairing. And, as so often happens when I tune in to something new, I’ve experienced some lovely synchronicity—in this case, regarding the book’s example about the importance of listening.

As part of my research about Callings, I visited the StoryCorps website and found this video introduction for the project.

I was struck especially by this comment, “When you listen, great things are going to happen.” StoryCorps has some facts to support that claim. In 2015, the project surveyed listeners and found out some great things have happened as people have listened. Here are a few:

  • Increased understanding of people with a disability or serious illness
  • Increased understanding of immigrants, Latinos, and African Americans
  • Feeling connected to people with different backgrounds
  • Reminded listeners of their shared humanity
  • Helped them see the value in everyone’s life story and experience
  • Became interested in thinking about how society could be improved
  • Made them feel more positive about society

 A few days later, I got some clues about why Dave Isay considers listening “an act of love” in this On Being interview with Krista Tippett. Now I want to read another StoryCorps title, Listening Is an Act of Love.listening cover

Of course, I also was delighted with Isay’s answer to Krista’s question that she opens each interview with about his religious or spiritual background in childhood: “I went to Hebrew school when I was a kid. And I didn’t connect at all. I went to a Friends school for high school. I think I’m culturally Jewish—and maybe a little more spiritually Quaker.”

On the heels of that interview came this QuakerSpeak video.

In this conversation, a Quaker named O talks about the role of listening in healing our humanity. She also offered thoughts on what happens when we don’t listen:

My concern is that we don’t listen to each other, and it creates the world we see… People not being heard, not being seen, not being appreciated, not being valued, not being recognized. People not being recognized for that of God that dwells within them… And so we fragment… We become broken because we are not seen for who we really are.

O refers to the Quaker practice of listening each other into wholeness… to the place “where our heart is actually touched.”

My heart has been touched by all of this listening.

 

*“Afterthoughts” are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, maybe even bumper stickers.

*Afterthought #49 Going Back for More

QEarlier this month I wrote about my first time at Quaker meeting and how that experience nearly thirty-five years ago felt like coming home. That was enough to keep me going back for more, even though I left that silent worship with many questions. I didn’t know if that time of worship was typical or if it would be different on another day. I wasn’t sure if I’d broken any “rules” about where to sit or what to wear. And I wondered what the other hundred or so folks were “doing” during that hour of silence.

Over the years I’ve learned the answers to those and many other questions through reading, discussions, and by attending many meetings across the U.S. and in Latin America. And still, I never tire of hearing how people prepare for and are touched by this form of worship. Whether you’ve never attended a Quaker meeting or you are, as we say, a “seasoned Friend,” you might enjoy these two short QuakerSpeak videos: What to Expect in Quaker Meeting for Worship and What Do Quakers Do in Silent Worship?.

 

Big thanks to: Friends Journal for supporting this project; QuakerSpeak project director Jon Watts; and project partners Friends Committee on National Legislation, American Friends Service Committee, and Friends World Committee on Consultation.

 

*“Afterthoughts” are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, maybe even bumper stickers.

Refocused

A few weeks ago, my registered nurse license renewal notice arrived in the mail, and for the first time in forty years, I didn’t automatically send in the fee to maintain it. Before the end of May, I have to decide if I’ll keep my license active (requires a certain number of nursing practice hours and CE—continuing education—hours), move to retired active status (requires significantly fewer practice hours and the same number of CE hours) or inactive (no CE requirement, and I couldn’t practice nursing).

WritetoHeal poster

I’ve been discerning this step ever since I renewed my license a year ago. Then, there was no question, as I was still working as a nurse. But a month after last year’s license renewal, I left my school nurse position. I’m not looking for another nursing job. Instead, I’m seeking a publisher for my memoir, starting a new writing project—BOUNTY — about farmers on Lopez Island, and submitting proposals to teach writing workshops.

Some people say I’m retired, but this doesn’t look like the “retirement” I saw when I was growing up. Instead, I think the term a friend uses­ describes this phase of life more accurately. I say, “I’m refocused.”

Regardless of what I call it, I do feel I’ve reached a milestone. My friend Nancy thought so, too, and she offered to host a party to honor it. When I walked into her living room, a dozen or so friends—most wearing white nurses’ caps on their heads and stethoscopes draped around their necks—greeted me. One male friend guzzled beer (I trust) from a urinal and escorted me to the beverage table. Catheter bags dangled over it, one bulging with a pale yellow liquid and labeled Pinot Grigio, another filled with a dark red Cab-Merlot.

“White or red?” Nancy asked as she reached for a plastic urine specimen cup from the stack on the table.

nurse pic

Few of these friends had ever observed me in my role as a nurse, and none had seen me dressed as I was at nursing school graduation. Since moving to Lopez Island nearly twenty years ago, I’ve worked as a nurse in other locations—around the country as a Head Start reviewer, throughout the state of Washington to train child care health consultants, from my desk in my home office to write manuals and handbooks for nurses, and most recently on another island as a school nurse.

quilt

That night, these friends seemed eager to hear stories from four decades of my career. We laughed at photos from my school of nursing yearbooks—so many earnest young women wearing blue-and-white checked seersucker uniforms, starched white aprons buttoned to the waistbands. I unfurled the queen-size quilt made of squares my mother and grandmother had cut from those dresses and aprons.

I read an excerpt from my memoir, Hiking Naked, that traced my path as a new graduate in a surgical intensive care unit at Indiana University Hospital, nursing people following open heart surgery, radical neck surgery for cancer, motorcycle accidents, and small bowel resections. Then I told of my transition to a visiting nurse agency, caring for patients in their own bedrooms and sitting with them at their kitchen tables to count out doses for their pill containers. I checked their blood pressures and listened to their lungs in their living rooms instead of in sterile exam rooms. Elderly patients told stories of the children and grandchildren whose framed photographs lined fireplace mantles and bookshelves. I read, too, about how I eventually found a home for my passion in public health, caring for pregnant women and their children, promoting health and preventing communicable diseases, and shaping public policy to promote safe and healthy childcare. Finally, I spoke of my realization twenty years in that, like so many others in helping professions, I had burned out.

For two years I wrestled with whether I was being called from nursing to different work. I railed on the pages of my journals about the changes in health care since my early days in ICU and my disappointment when the public health system succumbed to the same focus of hospitals and private providers on the ledger sheet’s bottom line. That clear leading blurred and I despaired over who I would be if I weren’t a nurse.

16f51-iris2bgrad

Ultimately, I discerned that while I was still drawn to serving others as a nurse, my spirit needed other forms of creative expression. For nearly another twenty years, I found ways to use my nursing skills and expertise part-time and to pursue book arts and writing. Now, having earned an MFA, it’s the writing that receives most of my attention.

~   ~   ~

license

At the end of my “retirement” party, I refolded my quilt, the puckered seersucker under my fingers a symbol of the strength, care, and memories of this work. A flag of sorts to honor nurses still at bedsides. Today, I picked up the license renewal form and circled my status—inactive—though I’m tempted to rename it. For me it should read, refocused.

Going Nowhere

The black, rubber platform glides under my feet. I jab the upward arrow on the control panel to speed the surface, forcing my stride to accelerate, my breaths to come more quickly, my heart to pump faster. The view out the window remains unchanged; I’m going nowhere.

lopez fit

There’s a new fitness center in town, and I’ve signed up for a monthly membership. I’d rather walk outside to exercise myself—and my dog—but my resolve dissolves in the gray and wet of winter around here. Even on the coldest, wettest days, I can work out at the gym in short sleeves, and I don’t have to peer through rain-spattered glasses. Plus, the walls of the center are lined with equipment that promises to strengthen my biceps, triceps, quads, and abs in ways that writing doesn’t.

The fitness center’s treadmill takes me back twenty years. Back to another time that I felt I was in a race that went nowhere. Then, I scrambled up a metaphorical treadmill, worried about the pregnant women and babies in my public health nursing caseload and questioning whether I was doing the work I was called to do. At the same time, the pace of life had me, my husband, and our twin son and daughter grasping for a handhold as we juggled jobs, school, soccer practice, the yard, the dog, the mortgage, and the grocery bills. Our response was to step off the speeding conveyor belt and take a family sabbatical in Stehekin, a remote village in Washington’s North Cascades. After two years there, I gained some clarity about achieving a balance between doing and being.

I’ve been writing about that time ever since—essays, blog posts, poems, and a memoir manuscript. Ironically, just as one essay, “Seeking Clearness with Work Transitions,” was published in Friends Journal, I’ve recognized that I’m again moving faster and faster to keep up with life’s demands spinning under my feet. Even though the kids are grown, I’ve retired from nursing, and my husband and I live in a rural, island community only slightly less remote than Stehekin, I again feel that I’m running at top speed, and it’s not the kind of strengthening activity I desire.

It’s no surprise that I’m not the only one scrambling. I’m not the only one who’s succumbed to checking e-mail and social media multiple times each day, seven days a week. I’m not alone in feeling that there’s no longer a time to be truly “off.” And I’m among many people who think that all of this activity will help us be more productive, will get us somewhere.

picoiyer_6095_4x3Writer Pico Iyer has spent much of his life on a quest to “take care of his loved ones, do his job, and hold on to some direction in a madly accelerating world.” In his latest book (at 74 pages, it’s more like a long essay),The Art of Stillness – Adventures in Going Nowhere, Iyer reflects on why so many of us feel desperate to unplug. He suggests that stillness—slowing down, taking stock—can promote creativity and counter the mad rush of modern life. He writes:

“…not many years ago, it was access to information and movement that seemed our greatest luxury; nowadays it’s often freedom from information, the chance to sit still, that feels like the ultimate prize.”

So. Before I check e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, or the news headlines, it’s back to the practices that lead me to stillness—journaling, yoga, meditation. And perhaps the fitness center treadmill will serve as a new metaphor for the pleasures of going nowhere.