Friday, October 14, 2016

When We Listen

"We just had the best field trip ever."

Her name is Sarah and she's just taken two steps into my classroom. I see her excitement and so I say, "Come in and tell me all about it."

"We went and saw an old bookseller, collector, and trader. He had Louis the XV's personal copy of the bible. We saw a letter from Helen Keller and a letter signed by Mother Teresa. Oh, and a fourth folio of a Shakespeare play. He had the glass bowl from the Hunger Games and the ring used in Lord of the Rings."

"From the movie?"

"Yes, and he had a first edition of the Gutenberg Bible."

Her mind is racing and then she remembers, "He even had Hitler's personal copy of Mein Kampf."

What a shame that has value.

But it does, and the greater value is in the student's discovery of history, of books, great thinkers, and other people who respect the celebrated works of the past.

She pulls out her phone to show me the photo of Helen Keller's signature. By now, another student has joined our circle and together we thumb through photos that include first editions of The Lord of the Rings.

As exciting as antiquity is, I find the real excitement in the student's  discovery that these things exist and that they were accessible to her. It was a surprise. A surprise that  left her shaking with delight that heightened when she found an interested person to share it with.

When something VERY special happens, even something sacred, even something sad, I've come to understand I can only share it with a small circle of friends, or even one person. It's not because I'm snobbish about it, or protective--my sharing is completely dependent on whom will listen to me. Who will really listen.

Many of our life experiences are vicarious. I didn't live in Cuba during the missile crisis; the French resistance didn't try to recruit me on a country road; I was never hit by a car and lived to become a professional, handicapped, golfer--but I know people who lived these different scenarios, and I can listen to their stories and be enriched by their stories.

Funny thing: As I write this, the German exchange student who came back to volunteer and learn better English, meanders into my room. I listen. And learn. I learn how difficult it was for him to get a visa. I learn how his family back in Germany, a country inundated with refugees, took in a young teenager from Afghanistan who made the journey by himself.

I learn I have so much more to learn by listening. When we listen, people are willing to speak, and they often speak from the deep wells of experience.