27 February 2007

This Is the Part

This poem came out of a conversation I had with a man last summer. The woman who'd raised him had just died. Usually those talks are brief: a description of the relationship, a bit about what will happen for the funeral, regret at not being there. This was different. A life story spilled out and I listened. A few hours after he left my office, I wrote this poem. It's an entry here today because I just got news that it is published in this week's National Catholic Reporter. I am thrilled. I've shared this poem with friends who are in ministry of all kinds because listening is what we do most often.

This Is the Part

This is the part where
I shove aside what was urgent
five minutes ago.
Whatever it was, it can wait
because this person
in front of me
my attention
I take a deep breath

This is the part where
I check the box of tissue
and close the door
and make myself still

This is the part where
I listen
to words
sounds caught in the throat
the long-ago child
who doesn’t have words

This is the part where
there are no words
I hold
like a bird
that will shatter
with the cold

We breathe
as if we’re just learning
at a time

This is the part where
I say, You will live
You will not die from this

This is the part where
I let go
No magic words
No lasting touch

This is the part where
I trust what has happened
between us
through us
and then let go

This is the part where
I have no part.

Shannon O'Donnell


MikeF said...

Wonderful stuff, Shannon... thank you so much for posting that. It should be inserted as a foreword in every textbook on listening, and read at the beginning of every listening skills course.

Bless you


jerry said...

Shannon..I'm loving this and I just got started:-) What beautiful writing...I felt like I was in the room with you. It was like an intense brief movie in my head. Listening...so important, yet not always so easy. Becoming a better listener is something I hope and pray for each day. still hope I'm not bugging you by doing this:-)...jer...