Is Anybody Listening?


Milt and I have gotten into a bad habit of checking our Facebook accounts while sitting side by side in our little living room.  We share photos and crazy little videos, but mostly we are swimming around in our own separate cyber worlds.  A very bad habit.  He has not yet “chatted” with me from two feet away, but it could be in the cards. 

A couple of weeks ago we had the first of a series of small dinner parties we will be hosting once a month over the next year.  The parties have a catch—at the end of dinner we all gather in a circle and pass around a small recorder as a talking stick.  We throw out a story prompt and then begin telling stories.  The only “rules” are that whoever is talking gets to talk without interruption—and we ask that people connect with personal stories and not opinions or heady ideas.

Our first guests were a little nervous about the concept—what are you doing, what are you going to ask, how will this be used?  They soon relaxed into the quiet circle.  The question for the first round was, “What were the greatest 8 seconds of your life?”   The stories fell out into our circle–stories gathered from a lifetime of experiences—becoming a father, “can do” moments, being recognized by others for special accomplishments.  The second round evolved out of the first—when was a moment that somebody really saw you and what you were doing?  The third round was “What was something that you took on that you really weren’t sure you could do?”  As the recorder moved from hand to hand, the stories deepened, gathering texture and context, and even beginning to stir the heart and bring tears to our eyes.  The more deeply we connected with our personal stories, the more the rest of us listened.  It was as if the world outside our little circle didn’t exist any longer.

It was difficult to resist the urge to jump into somebody’s story to comment or advise or add on to.  It was difficult to stay present when my own mind was already linking another person’s story to my own.  It was also a good practice in just listen and be present.

Later that night, after everybody was gone, I was thinking about how fast our world is going right now.  Nearly everybody I talk to is going full speed toward some often undefined destination.  We’re in a hurry for what?  We are speeding toward what?  But in our simple little gathering we sat and just listened to one another and connected and waited patiently for “our turn.”  It was sweet and special to both be listening—and to be heard.

We don’t really have a plan other than to create a context for connection and deep listening.  Somewhere down the road related stories may coalesce into some thematic radio piece that, when you would hear it on the radio, you automatically slide into your own special stories.   We’ve used recording talking circles with lots of young people in our radio groups, but we wanted to extend the idea into our own living room with friends.  See what would happen when we slow down the clock and just listen.  Most of us have powerful personal stories that define who we are and often guide the many decisions we make over a lifetime.

I’ll share one of mine that I told that night.  And if you want—you can reciprocate by sharing one of your own stories right here.  When I was in college, I was working my butt off to get through in 4 years.  Until the summer I went out to the Black Hills to work at Sylvan Lake Resort.

The schedule was brutal, and I save nearly every dollar I had made because there was no time or place to spend it.  When fall came the owners asked if I would stay and help close the resort for the season.  On a whim, I decided to do it and then to take the money I made through the whole season and do something different.  I decided to study abroad for 6 months, and chose a foreign study program in Oxford, England.

In January of 1976 I left northern Minnesota and flew to London.  I went from the frigid north to another planet.  When I landed I was jet-lagged, overwhelmed, scared, excited, and totally disoriented.  I had barely ever been out of Minnesota.

I managed to find the train to Oxford and fall into bed in a Bed and Breakfast.  When I woke up I had no idea where I was or what day it was.  I left the B&B to experience Oxford for the first time.  It was a Sunday.  I made my way down into the heart of Oxford looking for the address of the school I would be attending.  I found the location but could see no “school” anywhere.  I don’t remember ever feeling so alone.  I knew nobody and was thousands of miles from home.  I started worrying  that this school didn’t exist and somebody had taken me for a “royal” ride.  My money was gone—and I was alone and so screwed.  I was on the verge of panicking when, all of a sudden, the bells from all of the cathedrals and colleges of Oxford began to ring simultaneously.  I stood alone on a nearly deserted street and listened.  It was the most amazing thing I have ever heard then or since.  Beautiful.

All of a sudden it didn’t matter what would happen next.  This moment—this moment—was what I had traveled so far to experience–something completely out of my “real world” experience.  I wanted to dance and sing and spin in circles.

It was one of the greatest 8 seconds of my life.

So, maybe you are too far away to invite into one of our little dinner circles, but we can still share stories.  What was the greatest 8 seconds of your life?  You have the talking stick.

By the way, if you are in our area and would like to be added to our special guest list, just let me know.  Also by the way—there was a school on the top floor of a building and the six months I spent in Oxford were incredible!

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Is Anybody Listening? — 6 Comments

  1. Visiting my brother in Berkeley, as he was in the optometry school there, I went into San Francisco and purchased a ticket to the Symphony conducted by Loren Maazel. Back in Berkeley I mentioned this to my brother and he said he had friends going that night. He’d called them and I could get a ride. Five minutes after joining this man and his wife for a ride across the bay, the woman pulls out a cigarette case filled with 6 or 8 of the most beautifully rolled joints I’d ever seen. She handed one to me, then one to her husband and one for herself. No sharing here. I was so stoned when we got to the opera house. My seat was the last seat in the orchestra…6th row…center. I had never seen a large city symphony before this night in the early 70s. When Debussy’s La Mer was performed, I immediately started crying…just tears, no sobbing…it was more than 8 seconds…and it was until then, the highlight of my life. I was the only one around me wearing blue jeans with a tan corduroy jacket with alot of political patches and long hair. I will never forget that concert.

    • Hi Barry,
      I was scrolling through the comments to find the ones I may have missed and found this one. What a fabulous story. I was sitting right next to you in that concert hearing it with you. Thanks so much for sharing this more than 8 greatest seconds.


  2. I’ve had many 8-second wonderful moments. But the most amazing one is when I was asleep one night a number of years ago and woke up to find my cousin Gabriel lying with me. It was a dream, of course; but it seemed so real that I lay there feeling we were together, talking and slightly hugging. He was 8 years older than I was; and from childhood on, we had always had an extraordinary and special bond. Then I must have fallen back to sleep–or the dream ended. It was about 8 seconds or so that he had been with me. BUT THEN the next day I was informed by his sister that he had been killed the night before in a car accident! And he had come to me after he died, I assume, because our tie was so very close–maybe closer than with any other person in his life. Oh, Gabe, I love you, too.

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