Speak and listen

I have been to another world and come back.
Listen to me.

-Mark Helprin, Winter’s Tale

I’ve loved this quote for a long time.

I love it because we all have experiences that set us apart from everyone else, experiences that makes us feel like we’ve been to a different world. And all we want is for someone to listen to what we’ve learned and understand how that new world changed us.

Sometimes the places we go to and the experiences we go through feel like trips to the moon and back. We’re bringing home handfuls of stardust, nearly bursting to open our palms and show everyone the remnants we’ve brought back from that world—whether fist fulls of dirt or of magic. We’re holding our hands open, saying, Look what I have! You won’t see this anywhere else. Isn’t it dreadful? Isn’t it beautiful?

And too often, people walk right past.

They walk past my friend Hanna who spent six months in Zambia, a world of poverty and orphans and huts and heat. She holds out her hands saying, Look how rich we are here. Look how much I miss them there.

They walk past Jaime who had a brain tumor and entered a world of pain and fear and shock. She says, Look at these brief moments we have. Look how we must live each one.

They walk past Amy who fell in love unexpectedly and walked into a world of joy and gladness. She says, Look at the beauty of patience. Look at the way Christ loves the church.

We’re all holding out our own handfuls of memories, begging people to understand just a glimpse of the worlds we’ve been to. Begging people to listen.

I want to scream to the world, Look how suddenly everything changes. Look at how much stronger you are than you think. Look how scary this was, but look how big God is.

We need people to listen—really listen. And we need people to speak—really speak. Not enough people speak in this world, and not enough people listen.

So speak and listen.

We are each tiny collections of stories walking around. And as people tell us their stories, we grow. We step a little closer to the planets they’ve been to, dipping a toe into this world, a toe into another, snatching up little bits of dust as we move from one conversation to the next. We collect experiences and stories of experiences until our arms are full, and in filling our arms, we fill our lives with the stuff needed for living. People tell us about the planets they’ve been to—the horrid and the beautiful and the scary and surprising—and those worlds help us live better in our own.

So tell people where you’ve been. Talk until your voice is rough, and listen until your ears can’t hear any more. Recognize that there are some worlds you will never go to unless you enter them through the eyes of someone who’s traveled there. And if you’ve recently been a traveler, don’t be afraid to declare it—I have been to another world and come back.
Listen to me.

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