Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Listening for the Whispers

Karen was here today. She doesn’t like to be called “neighbor” so I’ll call her my friend who lives nearby. Karen has such big eyes, you can get lost in them. She’s soft-spoken and wise, polite and at the same time, not afraid to let her freak flag fly. Today, however, she was as pulled together as Audrey Hepburn. And during her visit, she rearranged my unruly hair three times. From hippie to Hepburn, I’ve sported a classy French twist all day.

We talked for hours. We talked about jewelry—often a topic under my roof where we’re surrounded by gemstones, sparkling crystals and mixed metals. We talked about our kids. What mothers don’t talk about their kids? We talked about the school, the teachers, the administrators. We talked about the economy and the flailing stock market with which both our husbands are involved. We brought up the neighbors—current and former—and on all subjects we had both negative and positive things to share.

Was it gossip? Nah. Everything out of my friend’s mouth is uttered with grace.

Karen and I talk on the phone weekly but today it was nice to sit across the table from her and share steamed-milk lattes. I’ve been thinking lately about how much I could really benefit from a girl’s night out but I found a girl’s day in on this warm Sonoran day was more stimulating than the latte. Thanks be to Karen.

In addition to the topics noted above, my conversations with Karen often turn toward faith. Karen is a minister with the Methodist church, but more than that, she’s a minister of motherhood, research, logic, love and good will. She NEVER preaches or sermonizes. On the contrary, she’s best at sharing and reflecting.

She’s a gifted listener. And when I shut up and listened to her today, she said something I thought about for the rest of the day. On the topic of prayer and how we define it, she said one method of praying for her is to remain quiet and “listen for God’s whisper.”

Hours after I waved goodbye to Karen, I heard those whispers. It may have been from God, but I think more likely it was from my husband’s dead Aunt Ellen, a woman I loved.

Ellen took pride in being the “oldest living member of the Cozzens family.” She was kind to me from the minute Mike brought me home. I used to seek her out for many reasons, but what I loved most was our shared interest in books (she was a librarian) and crossword puzzles, and her love for the man who would become my husband.

Mike once thought of himself as the black sheep of the family. It wasn’t because he was a bad kid—on the contrary. It’s just that his siblings have had enormous achievements in the academic, professional and business worlds. Is it brain surgery? As a matter of fact, it is. One of his brothers is a brain surgeon, and whom doesn’t that impress?

Well, Ellen wasn’t overly impressed. Of course she was proud of her nephew and recognized his talents and accomplishments; however, when pointing out Mike’s talents and accomplishments (particularly when he felt lowly compared to his sibs), Aunt Ellen likened being a brain surgeon to being a plumber. “It’s a trade,” she said. For whatever reason, that made Mike feel better about himself.

These days with the stock market bringing consistently bad news and our portfolio shot to shit, many of my husband’s talents and accomplishments have turned to on-paper losses. We still have the business we built together and he’s working very hard with his cottage industry disc golf sales to pay the mortgage, but I know he’s fearful about keeping this lifestyle together for our family.

Alone in my car, I worried too, and I wished someone like Aunt Ellen were around to remind us of all the positives. And this is when I heard the whisper.

Because my golf disc salesman was so busy organizing his new shipment for a pro tournament vending opportunity tomorrow, I handled both ends of the afternoon kid shuffling. While on my way to hip hop pickup, I listened to a story on NPR about a 54 year-old unemployed worker in Rhode Island’s jewelry industry named Harold Shippy. After losing his job, a job for which he only needed a high school diploma, he’s hunting for a new job in a state competing with Michigan for the highest jobless rate in the country.

Shippy said if he could do it all over again, he would have become a brain surgeon; however, at his age and with his lack of higher education and a family to support, “he says he’ll probably become a plumber.”

When I heard this I spoke the name “Ellen” right out loud and looked up at the beautiful mountains surrounding our home. Then I thought of my friend Karen and I knew everything was going to be okay.

Listening to the whispers brought me out of my worry and back to the most important thing. And that’s love. As long as you have love in your life, it’s the biggest talent and accomplishment you need to get you through the tough times.

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