the hours that matter the most

as i sift through the grains of my week, of my year, of my long stretch of motherhood, i’ve come to know that the grains i hold a bit longer, the grains i hold up to the light, are the fine simple hours that come, often, right after school.

when the boys who i love are bothered, are troubled, are weighed down with the grit of the day.

when suddenly the chairs at the table are pulled. bottoms splot onto cane-woven seats. when tea cups are cradled in palms. when oranges are peeled, piled in sections.

when the talking begins.

of all the scores of things i might do in the course of a week, of a lifetime, nothing perhaps matches the wholeness of those holy hours.

the boys who i love are sifting through their own hearts, laying their troubles there at my chest, at my heart. they are trusting not my mouth but my ears.

just listen, you can hear them hoping.

just hear all my words, spoken and not.

just listening alone will heal, will soothe, go a long way toward fixing.

when days are bad, when hours are bumpy, most of the time we aren’t looking for quick-cures or band-aids. all we want, really, is someone to sop up the hurt. to listen to worries.

all we want, often, are eyes that look deep, look gently. eyes that listen. not words that cut off. not words that dismiss.

just hear me, you can hear the hearts saying. if you listen. just listen.

and so, unscripted, unplanned, the scene plays over and over. one minute we’re there at the sink, i might be chopping or rinsing, a child is circling the kitchen. the talking begins.

the kettle is cranked. the tea bags and cups, pulled from the cupboards. tea kettle whistles. stories are spilling.

i walk to the table, two teacups in hand. chairs are pulled out. each of us sits. i lean in, my chest pressed against the edge of the table, tilting toward the one who is talking.

the quieter i sit, the more wholly i take in the words, the deeper the place from which the words come.

it’s a curious algebra, the one of the heart.

on the surface, perhaps, it appears to be one-way. but in fact, the art of listening is a most active one. you take in, you sift, you turn each morsel of thought, you examine, allow the questions to rise. but you wait. you hold your questions off to the side, in a queue, on hold. patiently waiting their turn.

when it’s time, when the pause comes, you reel out the questions, one, or maybe a string. you sit and you wait.

a question, constructed with care, unspooled on the river of talk, is one that sinks deep, one that says, “i am with you in thought. we are in this together. our heads and our hearts entwined, teamed up. you’re not alone. i wonder, too.”

no solution need come. no answers, plucked from the current.

a deep conversation is not one in which the success of the time in the water is measured by number of fish in your bucket. there’s no scale at the end. no photo of you with your whopper-sized trout.

in fact, it might not be till later that night, or a week or a year down the road, when the one who you talked to realizes that all those hours, strung on a line that never breaks, have woven themselves into a cord that connects. a life-string that keeps you from drowning, from sloshing alone in the deep.

it’s what you hold onto, there with your ears and your heart wide open, and your mouth rather hushed.

you remember how deeply you prayed that someone would listen.

you cradle that cup till the sides grow cold, till the sun sets, and the clock inches along.

you know when it’s time for homework to start, for dinner to simmer along in the pots.

but in that holy interlude where one heart’s ache is offered up, received by another, the weight shared, burden lifted, those are the hours that matter the most.

those are the hours that answer our prayers.

the ones we’ve prayed all our lives.

the image up above, a boy and his cat, on a cold snowy day is one that i cherish. i love how the two of them lean in toward each other, touch forehead to forehead. a good afterschool talk is like that. and yes, one of us purrs.
what holy interludes of listening have you had this week? who taught you how to listen?