On Being Heard

I jammed my fingers in a cafe door in town the other day. Not in the way that you close the door on them and you say “ouch” and give them a bit of a shake until the blood flows back into them, I mean I grabbed hold of a door jamb for support for ten seconds, just as the big glass monstrosity of a door swung shut again. I’d grabbed the hinge side. The door wanted to be where my fingers were, and my fingers weren’t much of a match for stopping them.

(image from http://www.fingersafe.com.au. This is not me, obviously!)

The point is, it hurt. A lot. I managed to put down the thing coffee I was holding and reach across myself to push the door open again enough to extricate my fingers. I said “ouch”, or some variation thereof.

Here’s the other point: nobody, not one person in that coffee shop, nor anyone walking outside, noticed. This is understandable; my body was shielding the view from the people behind me, the person for whom the door had opened had already walked away, I was on my own, waiting for someone. People in coffee shops make remarks like “ouch” all the time, if they spill a dash of coffee on themselves, if they bang their toe, if they bite an ulcer on the side of their mouths. In hindsight I wouldn’t expect anybody to jump up and demand to know whether I was okay. I moved back to my chair, careful not to grab the door jamb this time, and sat down.

I didn’t take a photo, although I probably should have, because there were craters in three of my fingers a full half-centimetre deep, and although the skin hadn’t been broken it had been pushed down to the level of the bone. I held them up to the level of my face, partly to see them, half-wanting to catch the eye of someone, to debrief, to say “look at my fingers!” but nobody looked. I wanted to say “OUCH” again, loudly, but it was after the fact, and it wasn’t like there was anybody there who cared enough for me to say it to. I sat in my seat and watched the people and held my poor fingers against my hot coffee to soothe them, and waited.

By the time my friend came I had tears streaming down my face. I held up my hand and said, probably sounding as pathetic as I looked, “I jammed my fingers!” She was, of course, brilliant. She was sympathetic in the way that I needed, she got me some ice and some tissues to wipe my face, and she sat with me and asked “what happened?!” It helped. Simply by her presence and her willingness to listen she helped enormously. I hadn’t realised how much tension I’d been holding in my body since the incident until I felt it dissipate. The fact that someone acknowledged my experience helped me to move on.

(My fingers are fine, by the way. They are a little sore if I touch the place where they were jammed, but otherwise no injury at all. I’m very glad it wasn’t a child or an elderly person that it happened to though).

My fingers aren’t that much of a big deal, but it made me think a lot about the difference it made for me to be heard. It made me think about the stories of older people who lived through trauma (especially the sexual abuse stories) as young people, and told no-one, or who weren’t believed. It made me think of returned soldiers, especially those struggling to find their place in life again, and the stories they can’t talk about and how it affects them. It made me think about the times in my own life when I’ve shared a story, or not been able to share a story, or a thought, or a feeling, or a niggling doubt.

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fd/Meeting_On_The_Wall%2C_Essaouira_%285258780850%29.jpg/1024px-Meeting_On_The_Wall%2C_Essaouira_%285258780850%29.jpg(Meeting on the Wall, from Wikimedia commons)

We were made to listen, and to be listened to. This is the basis of friendship, of community, of family, I think. We were made to speak, and designed to be heard.

Who are you listening to today? What is it that you need to tell?