I Listened, But What Did I Hear?

I listened to this young man speak, but what did I hear?

With tension etched across his shoulders and about his jaw line, he entered the restaurant.  He had just parked in a space inappropriately, rudely if not illegally.  I swallowed the bitter taste and the personal offense from observing him.  He slid into the booth.  It was during the lunch rush.  I had arrived early and secured a booth by the window.  When he entered, it was already standing room only.

It had been a long time since we had shared a meal and a lot had happened since then.  Neither of us seemed altogether at ease until the first words were spoken.

“So what have you been up to?” he asked.

“Trying to stay out of trouble,” I answered.

“Ut oh, do I want to know about it? Hmmm, I can see by the look on your face that I really don’t,”  he responded.

We both laughed and began a comfortable chit chat.  The waitress came by several times and neither of us had looked at the menu.  Finally we ordered and scarfed down the food as if we had not eaten for days.

The conversation volleyed back and forth during that meal.  We spoke of cars, travel, restaurants, relationships and the odd bits.  I shared more than I usually do.  He seemed to be a little more relaxed in sharing with me.

I listened to him throughout all this.  I listened, but what did I hear?

He noticed the grandmotherly figures waiting to be served as they stood by the side.  He felt badly that he was seated and they were not.  I suggested that we could eat at the tables on the patio which would allow them to sit.  He shrugged it off.  He wanted to order a beer but he asked how I would feel about that before he ordered.  Then he explained his preference for this one over that one.  He spoke of how his time had been spent in the last few months, of the demands from family and friends.  It seems just in the past couple of weeks that his hands were free to piddle at what he desired.  The pull and tug of others had relented somewhat.  He seemed more at ease than I have seen him in a very long time.  We spoke of Christmas and of ideas for gifts for the various and sundry folk on our lists.  He commented on his girlfriend without too much detail but that things were good.  He spoke of the differences between them but somehow it worked.  He shared that he had watched a movie recently that he thought I would like.  It was about a man who had been a rowdy rebel into adulthood but then became a changed man.  He then set off for Africa as a missionary and built quite a reputation with the orphanages he built there and the funds he would raise back in the States.  He shared that this was a true story and he shared some of the gritty bits of life for these children who had been oppressed by drug lords and war lords.  He was amazed that those kinds of things actually happen in real life and not just within movies.  He spoke of his social habits including his relationship with alcohol and how he wanted to get back to a life of health.

I listened to this young man speak, but what did I hear?

His words spoke of facts.  His eyes revealed many questions.  Did he want my blessing, my approval?  Was he seeking affirmation or advice?  Was he there under a sense of obligation and did he leave with an awareness of Love?

We ordered separate desserts and taste tested both.  Each was more than one person could consume.  One was a rich chocolate cake with a peanut butter icing.  The other was a delicately presented French toast concoction with pumpkin, pear syrup and cranberries.  He surprised me by paying the bill for both of us and stated that this was our little private dinner club.

He held open the door as we left the restaurant and I stepped across the threshold.  I pointed to a new shop just opening nearby and made a comment to him about it over my shoulder.  When there was no response, I turned to see where he happened to be.  He had stayed back, holding the door for the elderly women leaving the restaurant as we did.  When he noticed that my car was parked some distance away, he walked with me making sure I was safely settled in.  He checked out the evidence that my car had been newly detailed.  We laughed from an inside joke from a new thing I had just learned about him in the restaurant as a pedestrian ambling by brought to mind our newly shared secret.

I listened, but what did I hear?  And more importantly, did he hear what he needed to hear?


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