Taking the effort to listen to what others say can be life-enhancing

Fr Michael Commane - The Way I See It

Jean Vanier is a 90-year-old Canadian philosopher and humanitarian, who has dedicated his life to caring for people with special needs. He set up the first L'Arche community in 1964 by welcoming two mentally disabled men into his home in France. L'Arche is now an international organisation of 147 communities in 35 countries.

In a recent piece in the English Catholic magazine 'The Tablet' Vanier lists 10 rules for making life more human. Among the 10 is this: 'To meet is to listen: Tell me your story? Tell me where your pain is? Tell me where your heart is? What are the things you desire?' He adds, 'I need to listen to you because your story is different to my story.'

I thought of those words during the following encounters.

I was cycling in a West Kerry village when a car pulled up and asked me for directions to a nearby beach. I paused for a moment, and then explained to the two women in the car how to get to their destination. They let me ramble on until one of the women took off her sunglasses. Of course I knew her, she was simply clown-acting with me.

We ended up chatting for the best part of 10 minutes, with she introducing me to her friend, who was driving the car. All this nonsense taking place on the main road of a small village. All this excitement and fun with me on my bicycle and they in their car. And no rush on any of us, that is until the four-year-old in the back seat asks: 'what are we waiting for?'

The following day I was preaching at a harvest festival at a Church of Ireland liturgy. It was a small rural church. At one stage while talking, I moved away from my notes and mentioned how Trump avoided fighting in Vietnam, which meant he was a draft-dodger. A woman in the congregation pipes up that Clinton was also a draft dodger. I wasn't expecting it, so for a millisecond or so I was confused and nervous and then said that so too was Bush a draft dodger but in the case of both Clinton and Bush they did not constantly talk about their love and respect for the military and the flag as Trump does.

I'm back to my text and talking again when a man in the front seat stands up and leaves. I'm floored, don't know what to say or do, stop for a moment, wondering should I ask was he ok. But no, I fluster again for another millisecond and then go back to my text. I sure was rattled and a most unhappy punter.

When the service was over I made for the woman who had stopped me in my tracks and explained the context of why I had said that about Trump. We both laughed and shook hands. A few minutes later I met the man who walked out. He explained he urgently had to go to the toilet. We exchanged a few words and smiled.

Human encounters can be great fun, they don't always run easily and smoothly but when we make the effort of listening to the other person, taking heed of what they say we are experiencing life-enhancing moments. As Jean Vainer says, we need to listen to the other person because their story is different from mine. Listening and chatting with people makes our world a far better place. And does us great good too.