Truth Byte #3: “Just stop talking.”
This was a busy few weeks. Unlike most years at Christmas time, I was organized, ready, and calm, and everything was on schedule and running smoothly. Until the vomiting started.
It began in the middle of the night with my son, who threw up on his two cousins and sister as they shared a bunk bed together on December 23. Christmas Eve was spent nursing a sleepy and nauseous six year old while his cousins worried that he would not be better in time for the man in red. Alas, Christmas morning came, and all was well as the children opened their stockings and negotiated the order for opening the evening presents under the tree. The smells of the turkey roasting in the oven and our joking team of almost-cooks filled the house with laughter and good cheer as we prepared the evening meal together.
And then finally, the moment we had all been waiting for.
The turkey (we named him Norman) entered, carried by my proud son and husband, and was ceremoniously carved by the head of our household who had flown in from Houston. My sister-in-law and I served warm food to eager guests, and it was like a slow build to the moment when….another child stared to vomit.
The rest of the party and the next few days was a domino-effect of stomach sickness that left no child or adult in our home untouched.
And what I learned is this: Sometimes, you have to just stop talking.
Because if we had talked, if we had unpacked what had happened and complained about how the vomit ruined Christmas, that is how we all would have remembered about this holiday. If my old perfectionist-self had been allowed to talk, I would have made everybody feel bad, and then felt bad for making them feel bad. Instead, we looked at each other, smiling, laughing, and said, “There goes kid number 4!” “ or “another one down!” or “2015 will be a Christmas to remember!”, and we focused instead on each other, and found ways to comfort each other through the very messy and smelly family purge.
In my work, I let people talk. They tell me about pain, about the past, about tremendous stories of struggle and triumph. They talk about who they are becoming, and the vision they have for a better future.
And sometimes, I ask them to stop talking.
I ask them, instead, to start noticing. To start finding the humour, the beauty, the pulse that remains long after the story is told and forgotten, and what remains is that hazy memory of some event or wish that no longer really describes their life. I ask them to listen. To listen to the story they have been telling, and how that exact story (the one they are so invested in having me hear) is what they say they want to change. I ask them to look at and to learn about those they love without their own whining voices getting in the way of really knowing those they claim to love, and allowing space for a new kind of relationship to emerge with those around them. This new relationship could be based on mutual support and understanding rather than guilt, shame, and blame. I ask them to just stop talking and try something else.
So today, as we quietly prepare for the end of 2015, I encourage you to just stop talking. You may be surprised what your own voice has been drowning out. You may be surprised at how easy it is to re-tell your story.