Joan’s heart sank as she watched the elderly woman walk across the room toward her. It had been a long and exhausting day, and Joan had nestled between two oversized plants in the airport waiting area. She was hoping to make herself invisible to the crowds coming and going as she waited for her flight.
There was barely room for Joan and the second chair she was using to hold her books. She hoped that if she continued to stare at her book, the woman would keep on walking.
“Why hello dear,” the woman said. “Do you mind if I join you?”
“Let me move my books,” Joan replied in the friendliest cold voice she could muster, trying to remember her mother’s lectures on manners.
“Thank you. All of those people make me nervous,” the woman said with a sweep of her arm toward the crowd close to the gate. My name is Ann, but most people call me Annie. I am traveling to Houston,” the woman went on endlessly. “What do people call you?”
Joan groaned inwardly. She had never been good at small talk. It had been her experience that people didn’t listen to what was said. It seemed so empty to her, so hypocritical. Although people ask how you are, they don’t really want an answer, Joan had concluded. Mostly they want to launch into a tirade of their own situation.
Joan responded with her name and a smile and then looked back at her book hoping that Ann would get the message. Joan always did better with books. They didn’t make her feel like a fool every time she opened her mouth. They were always waiting for her with open pages and total acceptance of whatever mood she was experiencing at the moment.
Joan smiled. She didn’t have a clue of what to say. Her mind was like a recorder, replaying every faux pas she had spoken. She dug deep for words, none came. She felt like a fool. Ann didn’t seem to notice but pointed out the lady across the room in the blue shirt. “Have you met Doris?” she asked. “She could use a pretty smile. Her mother passed away last week and she is returning home after the funeral. We sat together on the plane.”
“Annie, can I get you something from the restaurant?” the young man who stopped in front of Joan asked. “Oh, how sweet, Jacob,” Annie responded. “But no, I’m fine. Perhaps my new friend, Joan, would like something?”
After Joan assured them she was also fine, the young man moved on.
Joan was trying not to look at Ann, but she was fascinated by this woman who seemed to know everyone in the room. A little girl ran over and gave Ann a flower and a hug and then scurried back to her mother as if to punctuate Joan’s thoughts. “What attracted everyone to this lady?” Joan asked herself. Finally curiosity took over.
“You sure have a lot of friends, Annie,” Joan said. How do you do it?
“Oh, dear, I just listen to them. Listening, you know is the key…but it took me many years to learn that piece of information. Everyone wants to be heard.”
“Most people don’t care.” The words tumbled from Joan’s mouth before she could stop them. “And I just don’t know how to communicate. I get tongue-tied, I say the wrong thing.”
Joan could see the distant look in Annie’s eyes, like even she wasn’t listening. But then Annie spoke. “I remember feeling just like that. But you know what, deep down, I was really miserable. I tried to convince myself that I was happy living all bottled up inside, but I really wasn’t. A woman told me what I’m going to pass along to you. The one person you can carry on a conversation with that loves you unconditionally is your Heavenly Father. Talk to him constantly. Then you don’t have to worry about someone hearing about you. You just have to be a good listener and hear their story because it’s not about you. Show them the love He shows to you. Share a smile, a pat, a laugh, but above all, listen. Be real. Be yourself.”
They called for Annie’s flight and Joan hugged her and thanked her for her words of wisdom.”
When she left, Joan picked up her Bible from the chair and walked over to a lonely-looking lady. “Hello, my name is Joan.”
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