By Erma Bombeck (1927-1996), Syndicated columnist.
It was one of those days when I wanted my own apartment… unlisted.
My son was telling me in complete detail about a movie he had just seen, punctuated by 3,000 ‘You know’s?” My teeth were falling asleep.
There were three phone calls– strike that– three monologues, that could have been answered by a recording. I fought the urge to say, “It’s been nice listening to you.”
In the cab from home to the airport, I got another assault on my ear, this time by a cab driver who was rambling on son whom he supported in college, and was in his last year, who put a P. S. on his letter saying, “I got married. Her name is Diane.” He asked me ‘What do you think of that?” and proceeded to answer the question himself.
There were thirty whole beautiful minutes before my plane took off; time for me to be alone with my own thoughts, to open a book and let my mind wander. A voice next to me belonging in an elderly woman said, “I’ll bet it’s cold in Chicago.”
Stone-faced I answered, “It’s likely.”
“I haven’t been to Chicago in nearly three years,” she persisted. “My son lives there.”
“That’s nice,” I said, my eyes intent on the printed page of the book.
“My husband’s body is on this plane. We’ve been married for 53 years. I don’t drive, you know, and when he died a nun drove me from the hospital. We aren’t even Catholic. The funeral director let me come to the airport with him.”
I don’t think I have ever detested myself more than I did at that moment. Another human being was screaming to be heard and in desperation had turned to a cold stranger who was more interested in a novel than the real-life drama at her elbow.
All she needed was a listener– no advice, wisdom, experience, money, assistance, expertise, or even compassion; but just a minute or two to listen.
It seemed rather incongruous that in a society of super-sophisticated communication, we often suffer from a shortage of listeners.
She talked numbly and steadily until we boarded the plane, then found her seat in another section. As I hung up my coat, I heard her plaintive voice say to her seat companion, “I’ll bet it’s cold in Chicago.”
I prayed, “Please God, let her listen.”
Why am I telling you this? To make me feel better. It won’t help, though.
Colossians 4:5 — Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.
Galatians 6:2 — Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
James 1:19b — Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
I Peter 3:8 — Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.
I Timothy 1:15 — Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
A PASTOR’S PRAYER:
O Lord God, merciful and mighty:
Help those whom I have neglected to help;
Set aright those whom I have caused to stumble;
Visit those whom I have neglected to visit;
Bring back those whom I have led astray;
Cheer the hearts of those whom I have made sad;
Draw with the cords of thy love those for whom my love has grown cold.
Save them all, O Lord, and have mercy upon me, the chief of sinners, lest after I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
Hear me, O Father, for the sake of Christ, my Lord. Amen.
–Author unknown, from Minister’s Prayer Book, edited by John W. Doberstein, 1960, page 162.