We all hear voices. There are voices that encourage us, tear us down, remind us where we parked the car, and debate whether to eat that piece of late night chocolate cake or choose a tall glass of water instead. We all hear voices. But, how many of us listen to them? How many times to we need to hear them before we believe them?
On Sunday, we had our first snow storm of the season. It wasn’t a major storm, only left about 1/2 an inch on the ground. But, given the unpredictable weather here in the Northeast, there was snow, then rain, then snow. Outside was like a winter wonderland, if said wonderland was a thick sheet of oil on wax paper.
My husband was outside scraping the car windshields and pushing the shovel on the driveway to clear off the layer of snow. He and my girls were getting ready to go to the movies, so he was working quickly. He set his own car radio to his favorite hip-hop station and closed the door. The music was loud enough to hear it, but not quite loud enough drown out the sound of my old car engine humming and wheezing as if the cold triggered some sort of automobile asthma.
“Jorge. Jorge.” Jorge looked up at our house and saw an empty window. He heard a woman’s voice call his name, and figured if it was me, I’d just come outside to speak with him. “Jorge. Jorge.” He looked towards my next door neighbor’s house. Our neighbor is 9 months pregnant. He thought maybe something was wrong, but with the two cars in their driveway, he was confident no one was calling him from their house. Jorge returned to dragging the shovel along the ice covered driveway. Tsksaappshkkkksh. Scrreeeppphsskkkksh. Scraappshkkkk. He fell into a groove scraping the snow back and forth across the wide part of our driveway. Shovel hits the pavement, walk across the driveway, toss the little fold of snow onto the grass, turn around and repeat.
“Okay, I heard that,” Jorge thinks to himself. He put down the shovel and walked around the side of our house. Maybe our neighbor who lives behind our house was calling him. Jorge looked over at their elevated back porch. No one there.
At this point, Jorge had been outside for more than 8 minutes, and it was time to get the girls and leave for the movies. He placed the shovel against the side of our house, turned off the cars, and stood up to admire his great driveway work. Hands on his hips, chest out, head held high — Jorge had that “I-Am-The-King-Of-My-Driveway” feeling.
Jorge walked to the end of our driveway, looking to the left and to the right. He had heard the voice this time, but now he was listening.
Across the street, through the thick wooden slats of the newly constructed ramp, Jorge saw a pink long sleeve waving at him.
“Jorge. I can’t get up. Please help me.”
Jorge leaped across the street to find Margaret, an older woman in her 80s, who recently had surgery, lying flat on her back at the bottom of the slippery ramp. His heart began to beat frantically. “I came outside to place sand on the ramp, and I fell. I can’t get up,” Margaret said with both an urgency and relief.
After helping Margaret, offering to call an ambulance or a family member, shoveling her driveway, defrosting her car, and sanding her ramp, Jorge came back into the house.
“Liza, I heard her,” Jorge said visibly shaken as he re-told his story. “She had been lying like that in the cold for at least 5 minutes. I heard her. I know I heard her. But, I ignored her. I don’t know if I ignored her or the voice, but I definitely heard my name called a few times. Imagine if I went inside and never came back out? Imagine if I never was outside to begin with, and no one helped her? I heard her voice, and I didn’t listen to it.”
I went to the grocery store this evening just to pick up a few quick items. Butter. Bread. Cheese. Nothing special. I fit these items in my arms, forgoing the gray plastic basket with the thick black handle. I find the grocery store experience to be hit-or-miss. Sometimes, the store is filled with friendly people — people who make passing conversation while selecting fruit in the produce aisle, a kind person with a shopping cart full of groceries who lets you go ahead if you only have a small basket, or a cashier who smiles, looks you in the eye, and says, “Hello!” Then, there are the times when people aren’t so friendly. Those are the times when people park their shopping carts in the middle of the already skinny aisle, or when you are coming out of an aisle and a person is steamrolling their cart perpendicular to you, or a cashier who can’t muster out a “Do you have your Stop & Shop card” without attitude.
Today was one of the “unfriendly” days. Even in the 15 minutes I was in the store, I already felt anxious and annoyed. In the line, I placed my items on the belt but didn’t bother to separate my items from the person in front of me with the plastic “don’t-even-come-near-my-food” bar (despite the fact that you could have laid a small child end-to-end between her items and mine). I was annoyed. I wanted to get out of there. I already had my Stop & Shop card and my debit card ready to go.
I could feel someone enter into the line behind me. Since the grocery store rules of engagement were already set at “don’t mess with me”, I just kept looking straight ahead. “Miss?” Eyes focused, straight ahead, counting the items until it was my turn. “Excuse me.” I didn’t recognize the voice, so I kept looking ahead. Phew! Almost done with the woman in front of me.
“Ma’am, excuse me, could you please help me?”
I turned around quickly and glanced slightly above my own eye level. At 5’3″, just about everyone is taller than I am, so I naturally look up whenever I anticipate eye contact. No one.
I quickly gazed down. Behind a gray basket piled high with food was a man with a black eye patch over his left eye. He appeared unsteady in his wheelchair as he balanced the overflowing food.
“Ma’am, I was wondering if you could help me unload the items onto the belt. It’s too heavy and far for me to reach.”
“Sir, yes. I’d be happy to help. Is there any particular order you want these in — boxes first? Cans first? Produce?” Did I sound like I was overcompensating in an attempt to relieve my embarrassment?
“No, if you could help me get them on the belt I can ask the person bagging them to stack it evenly.”
I began to unload boxes of stuffing, packages of ground beef, multiple cans of vegetables, and a rather heavy Jennie-O turkey onto the belt. “Looks like you’re cooking up a feast!” I say with a smile. “It’s like a Thanksgiving meal!”
“There’s a lot to be thankful for, ma’am. There is no sense in realizing that only once a year!” he said with a smile. My eyes moved from his teeth to his brown eye, and then over to his eye patch – a familiar and comforting object in my world.
I looked at him, in his eye, and returned the smile. “You’ve got that right,” I said.
“Thanks for your help, ma’am. God bless.”
“You’re welcome, Sir. Enjoy all that cooking!”
I finished paying, grabbed my bags, thanked the cashier and the young man who put the items into my reusable shopping bag, and left.
In 24 hours, situations could have turned out differently if we didn’t listen to voices. We heard the voices. I know my husband and I can both admit to that. But, neither one of us listened to them. What was it like for Margaret to see my husband — just barely across the street — and have him ignore her cry for help? Had he gone inside, she would have been alone. Cold. Scared. Frustrated. What was it like for the man in line to try and get my attention at least 3 times? Did he feel angry? Upset? Invisible? I heard him. I certainly did. But, I didn’t listen to him.
When do we ignore voices? Which voices do we choose to listen to? Which voices do we choose to hear? How many times have we left someone feeling alone, cold, scared and frustrated? How many times have we left someone feeling angry, upset and invisible simply because we chose not to hear or listen to them?
What do we risk by searching for those voices that we hear, by listening a bit closer to see if they are cries for help, assistance, or just connection? What do we gain?