To Just Listen
My son called me the other day agitated about something.
I was glad it was over FaceTime. I could see him as he paced around his room, as he waved his hands, as he put his head down or closed his eyes. We live 300 miles away from each other.
I was glad for FaceTime
I felt my urge to want to fix things, to reassure him, to make his pain go away. There would have been a time when I went beyond the urge—When I stopped everything to rescue him from a hurt; dropped off the homework he forgot so he could avoid the consequences, and later it was protecting him from other potential tribulations.
I watched his face and his hands as he relayed the issue at hand.
It takes a certain kind of backbone to witness and not fix things. It’s a different sort of participation. It takes strength to step back and listen. To just listen. Not to pipe in with motherly advice nor with sage wisdom, with yoga talk. With what I think he should do or not do. He wasn’t asking. Silence has its own kind of gift.
“How can I be helpful?” I asked after a long moment of us staring into space, breathing.
He looked relieved. Relieved perhaps that I didn’t try to sweep away his feelings. Last week, I overheard a mother’s response to her child who was crying about not wanting to go to school. “But you love school,” she cajoled as she held him in her arms, toys and disposable wipes falling out of the bag around her shoulder as she tried to wrestle him into the back of her car. But you love school.
I wanted to tell her that it was ok if he didn’t love school at that moment. That it was understandable that he would rather be home. And even if that were not possible and against the routine, she counted on — it was still ok for him to voice what he was feeling. I wanted to tell her that she could do it, she can stop for a moment, lean down and tell her child she hears him. She not only hears him but she understands. It wouldn’t change the outcome, I would tell her. You would go to work. And he would go to school. But in between that moment, you would have a chance to say you get it. It is hard to say goodbye. To leave home. To be away from what you love. And you could give him a space to honor how hard it can be to feel things like that.
A few months prior to this phone call my son visited me in Chicago for a few days. It was summer and we sat on my balcony talking. The conversation drifted to his past — to a difficult decision I made when he was younger. He looked at the cars passing by on the street below. “I would trade everything I learned, all the strength I gained from that experience," he said, "for never having to have to go through what I had to go through.” His eyes changed from green to gray. My intestines gripped. It’s a thing a mother doesn’t want to hear from her child. That something I did caused him pain, a pain he carried with him several years later into adulthood. I wanted to justify why it made sense for me to have made the choices I did back then. I wanted him to see things from my point of view. Salvage me from enduring his struggle.
But I stopped. Maybe because I was older and more accustomed to letting him speak without interruption. Maybe because I was not in such a rush anymore. Maybe it was a lot of time designated to practicing yoga — internalizing forgiveness, compassion, acceptance — Maybe that was integration. When the coalescence of practice and life brought to surface the
best and only response: Just listen.
I gently shook my head and put my hand on my heart the way that I do when I seek connection or comfort and I knelt down so I could look up at him. I told him that I could never understand how hard that must be for him. That he had been through so much. I never mentioned anything about my perspective.
That hard edge that overtook him only a few seconds ago quieted. I could feel he was more trusting and that was all that was needed at that moment.