“Ask, Listen, Care,” Sept. 17, 2019

It happened years ago, a chance encounter on an airport escalator that lasted for only a few moments. But I’ve never forgotten it. I hope I never will.

My husband and I had cleared security and were on our way to the gate, leaving Las Vegas, our home at the time, to fly to California to visit family.

He’d gotten ahead of me, as he often does when in a rush, and I was wondering exactly how long it would take him to miss me. Finally, at the top of the escalator, he looked down and saw I was just getting on it.

I waved and called “Meet you at the gate!” Then I turned to smile at a man behind me. He looked like a visitor, not a local.

“Did you have fun in Vegas?” I asked. I like to ask questions of strangers on escalators. The answers are always interesting. But this one broke my heart.

The man looked in my eyes, as if weighing how much to tell me. Then he poured out this story.

He had come to Vegas to visit an old friend he’d not seen since they broke up, just before he left to be a pilot in World War II.

“I’d told her not to wait for me. So she married someone else. I went to see her this week because she’s dying. I should have married her 50 years ago.”

I’m not sure what I said to him. I hugged him, which wasn’t easy on an escalator. Then we went our separate ways.

My husband was watching. I told him the story. He said, “He told you that on an escalator?”

“I think he needed to tell someone,” I said. “And I asked.”

Sometimes one question is all it takes to get a friend or a loved one or a total stranger to open up and tell you what they long to tell someone who will care. Often, “How are you?” is enough. For someone you don’t know, try, “Where are you from and what brings you here?”

Show you’re interested, then leave it up to them. If they want to talk, they probably will.

Why should you bother? Well, you shouldn’t, really, unless you care. If you care, that’s reason enough.

We all have different gifts. My husband, for example, is a great editor, a gifted musician and a really good grandpa. Me? I’m pretty good at getting people to talk. My kids claim I wear a sign on my back that says, “Confess.” I love hearing people’s stories. Maybe you do, too?

Here’s another story I hope I’ll never forget. I was 21, newly married to a rookie teacher, on our way to a faculty party, where I would know no one but him. I’d spent hours getting ready, doing my hair and makeup, changing my mind on what to wear a dozen times, only to look (I realized going out the door) no better than I ever did.

I would be meeting people who were smarter, richer and better educated than I was. I wanted to make a good impression. I kept asking myself, what on Earth will they think of me?

The answer came moments before I walked into the party. I heard a voice. I think it was God, but it sounded a lot like my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Camp. She often sounded like God.

“You are whole,” it said. “You have all you need. You don’t need to impress. Just be who you are. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. And care.”

Since then, that voice has whispered that same message to me countless times. I tend to forget it, but it always comes back to remind me. The words may vary, but the meaning remains the same:

To be heard, we need first to listen; to be understood, we need first to understand; to be human, we need always to care.

I still talk a lot. Too much sometimes. And I still wonder what people will think of me. But I try to remember that I am whole, and all I need to do is ask and listen and care. If I forget, the voice reminds me.

So. How are you?

Comments

  1. Pat says:

    I don’t usually respond to the articles I read, I just review them in my head and go on. But, this time it hit home. To set the stage, my husband (of 30 yrs and age 74) was having lunch with his sister, age 70, aunt, age 94, and cousin and her husband, age 81. The theme of the luncheon was that Aunt Betz was getting up there and they wanted to get together before the inevitable happens to one of the above and just catch up and relive old times. I (age 71) did not want to go but the hubby insisted. I really would have nothing to add to the conversation as they relive their old days. OK, so we get there and they all just sit there and talk about the weather, blah blah blah. I finally had enough sitting there thinking “ok, this is why I didn’t want to come”. I have a tendency to also talk too much and ask a LOT of questions. So I did what I do and started asking Aunt Betz about her life and things that happened before I came into the picture, that got things rolling. Then when that discussion died off I would ask another question, so on and so on. When we finally got Aunt Betz back home, 3 hours later, and hubby and I were alone he says “Thank you so much for going, we wouldn’t have had as much fun and learned all that history if you wouldn’t have been asking the questions”. Needless to say I finally felt good, usually he is the first one to tell me I ask too many questions. LOL, sometimes it works out! Thanks for letting me know that I am not alone!

  2. Kate Sciacca says:

    Well since you asked…. how am I? I’m a bit upset with myself actually. This morning I gave in to the temptation to pick up just ONE MORE Sherpa Ultimate throw at my neighborhood Costco (as often as I’m there, it IS my neighborhood store😜). And at $9.99 you just can’t beat these for the price and quality…. but that’s not why I’m upset with myself. And I’m not upset that I also gave in to the $1.50 hot dog and soda…. shoot, it was 11:30 and I was hungry! Nope, I’m upset because I put my prize blanket on a table near the condiments and went to load up on mustard and onions (yeah…I can pretend I’m at a ballpark) – then I was a very good girl and filled the soda cup with Diet Pepsi. Then I returned to my blanket and my table and saw that a young mama with a maybe six month old baby had decided to share my table with me. Instead of staying and asking questions and listening to her story I picked up my blanket and found another empty table. A couple minutes later a much kinder grandma sat and talked with her (wait… were you up here in the real Nevada and didn’t tell me?????) – anyways…. I watched them from afar have a lively fun conversation (and watched the grandma laughing and playing with that sweet baby). I missed a grand opportunity…. and I have only myself to blame. Thanks for letting me confess… do you offer absolution? 😉

    • Yes! I didn’t mention in the column that, on occasion, say, when I’m returning from a speaking gig exhausted from, like, speaking, I will use ear plugs on the flight home so I don’t have to listen or speak to anyone! Sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do! And I want one of those sherpa blankets!

  3. Martha Walker says:

    The lesson of the story is so true: Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Care. I had Mrs. Camp for my fifth grade teacher also.

  4. Sue Summers says:

    Loved the story.

  5. Mary Harrington says:

    I love to talk ask questions, try to understand my husband, kids say l am Nibby but nibby is a malicious trait. I prefer interested in what makes people be who they are. I find that fascinating and l truly care to hear their response. I always feel if they don’t share that is fine and l totally respect their privacy but honestly l can’t even think of anyone who has not shared their story. As you well know everyone has a story.

  6. Jeannette Buck says:

    What a great column!!

  7. Patsy Styers says:

    That’s because you are a special person who does really care and that is rare. Every time I read one of your columns I learn something new about myself so thanks for that Sharon.

  8. Preston Turner says:

    Enjoy reading your columns, my mother, Carolyn Joyce in Ft Smith, AR who works at the Fort Smith CVB (AKA Miss Laura’s Visitors Center as a tour operator) told me about your column and that you lived in Las Vegas. So now we are always looking forward to reading it in the local paper.
    I’m been in Las Vegas since 1987…and the Review Journal here in Las Vegas doesn’t have much to read on a positive note so I’m always looking for your column.
    Thanks for keeping us entertained and keep the light hearted stories coming. This story and your message about caring is what we need more of in this world today. We never know what the other person is going through, as a hairstylist I always look for something to start a conversation, I often hear more than I should in my chair.
    Enjoy and Hope you have a wonderful week.

  9. Nona says:

    I have some of your characteristics also. It is easy for me to meet people and I have worked as Admin Asst all my life, and the first person they see when they come in. I learned the way you did, get the person to talk about themselves and just listen. We all need that gift. Love all your columns. NW

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