Last week I received an e-mail from a friend of many years, Alex Kosma. Alex sent me a copy of an article written by a ninety-year-old retired physician. The physician wrote of a personal experience from two perspectives: as a doctor and as a patient.
While walking down the stairs in his house, the retired doctor lost his footing and fell. He sustained serious, potentially life-threatening injuries. The accident resulted in a lengthy hospitalization, much of the time in ICU and on the post-surgical ward. Fortunately he was treated at Massachusetts General Hospital where he received outstanding medical care which saved his life. Even so, he went through intubation, a temporary tracheotomy, a temporary abdominal feeding tube, a great deal of pain and an equal amount of anxiety. After weeks in the hospital, he was at last transferred to a rehab clinic to begin the long and pain-staking journey back to mobility and an acceptable quality of life.
After finally returning home to his wife and loved ones, the physician wrote about his entire experience. He described the clinical process (as a doctor) and the emotional process (as a patient). He wrote of how he grappled with fear and questions and pain and doubts and depression – all the things he had treated in others but suddenly was going through himself. He also wrote that during his long stay at the rehab center, a key source to his recovery was a cadre of sensitive, caring nurses who paid as much attention to his emotions as to his charts. They made him feel that he was more than a daily computer print-out but was instead a living human being with needs and feelings. Daily they would come into his room and ask, “How are you feeling this morning?,” or (at bedtime) “How did you get along today?” And the blessing he articulated was that they would then sit and listen. Their questions were not rhetorical but sincere. They were patient and attentive. And he said: “When they took my words seriously, it meant they took my life seriously, and that helped remind me that my life still mattered.” He credited those practitioners with restoring his physical health, partly at least, by being attuned to his emotional needs.
“Having ears, they do not hear,” Jesus said. It was, as much as anything else, a lament about how often we fail to tune into the emotional needs of our neighbors. Think, for example, of how many times recently someone has greeted you by saying, “How are you?,” but never quit walking long enough for you to respond. The expected response is simply, “Fine, thanks. I hope you are.” The question lacks sincerity. It does not actually seek information about us. “Having ears, they do not hear.”
Actually listening to someone is a powerful therapeutic discipline. That’s why we have psychiatrists and psychologists, pastors and friends. When someone takes our words seriously, it means they take our lives seriously. And that is a wonderful gift to give to others. It can, in fact, be a life-transforming gift, maybe even a life-saving one. So, “having ears,” let’s make a new commitment to use them, a new commitment to pay attention, to tune in, to listen to others. Who knows what miracles might occur as a result of that one commitment on our parts? As the retired physician indicated: “When they took my words seriously, it meant they took my life seriously, and that helped remind me that my life still mattered.”