Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Best Gift You Can Give—And it's FREE

writing, karfelt, communication, christmas, joy
S.R. Karfelt/The Glitter Globe

"I don't know what to say except it's Christmas and we're all in misery." ~Christmas Vacation Quote

It's true. The pressure for Christmas JOY and perfection has permeated society to our mitochondria. My Saturday book-signings this time of year have backed up my Christmas misery theory. 

December Saturdays are frantic shopping days for those of us exhausted from a long workweek. People want to get in and out of stores as fast as possible because they have a list of things to do. It surprised me how many shoppers told me they're exhausted, tired, can't keep up, don't even read anymore because they're too tired to do the things they used to love.

At book-signings I bring good chocolate and a pile of bookmarks. Some are for my books, but I bring some from my travels too. Ancient Egyptian scenes painted on papyrus that I got in Egypt and some from museums in Greece and Amsterdam are pretty popular.

But I didn't give any of them to the tired shoppers. They didn't want free stuff. They didn't even want chocolate. They wanted someone to listen, someone to hear their stress, someone to pay attention. 

I gave them my time and listened. 

It's not a big thing, but it's a bit of everyday magic. What I've found is that the quiet kindness is worth it. I don't offer unsolicited advice. I listen. I don't pretend to hear while thinking about something clever to say either. 

In our crazy busy lives I think it's something people need. We all want to be heard. Don't get me wrong. I'm not anxious to sit next to someone on a plane and hear their life story word vomit. I'm simply talking about communication. When someone is talking, take a moment to hear them.

As a friend often says, "Put your listening ears on."

Maybe communication is the key. If I take the time and energy to hear someone, we've made some type of connection. It's not a lasting friendship. I'll likely never see them again. But for a brief moment I saw and heard someone even if it's a stranger at a roadside stop, a checkout line, or at a book-signing. 

All those little communications add up to a satisfying life. It's time well spent. 

It's the secret to my happiness, anyway.

Sometimes I go to a Benedictine Monastery. There's one here in The Shire. They have signs in their gift shop that say...

"The greatest gift you can give someone is to listen."

I have found it to be true. Listening is my superpower. I can listen and I do it all the time. Except when my husband's talking about fishing or archery. I just drift right off into what Kahtar and Beth are doing now. Should I decide to continue that story I'm always ready.

For years I thought it's kind of great to be a writer and have a face that people want to talk to. But I've come to realize that the real reason people tell me things is only because I listen. 

Listening isn't all that easy. It can be downright exhausting. 

When I'm listening I sometimes feel what the other person is saying and feeling. Sometimes it's sad. Sometimes it's wonderful.

Occasionally I'll return from a long day of listening and lay down on the floor in absolute quiet to recharge. But just as often it invigorates me and makes me more patient with impatience, like grouchy DMV employees or rude drivers. Everyone has their reasons. Most people are doing the best they can. 

At my book-signing this past weekend a woman went past me pushing her walker in front of her. She had two Christmas pillows perched on it as she headed for the checkout area. They had chickadees on them in snow scenes. That's the kind of stuff that bookstores sell now. Not to mention LEGOS, games, chai tea, and epic journals. But I digress.

One of the pillows slipped off her walker and I picked it up for her. She proceeded to launch into a story of how her mother trained chickadees to eat out of not just her hand, but all the kids too. It was a great story. I filed it away in my writer brain for future use. 

Listening has extra benefits for writers. Priceless material. 

Sometimes people tell me awful things. Like about the time someone hurt them. Sometimes it's something intensely private and they will add, "I don't know why I'm telling you this."

Well, I know why. It's because I listen. 

Occasionally someone will tell me what a very nice person I am
after I've been listening to them. It makes me feel like a fraud. In some ways I'm every story I write. A warrior, an assassin, a storyteller, and a bitch witch. I'm not nice. Ask my husband. Ask any telemarketer who has the misfortune to actually get me on the phone. (I so do not listen to them. I'm no saint.) I can make them cry and I'm not proud of that. It's only that I'm sometimes kind, and I have a super power. I listen. 

More people should try it. In this wonderful world where so many people are talking all at the same time, hardly anyone is listening. If you've always wanted to do some magic, why not give it a try?

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