- Avery Garn
Learning to Listen
What do you want to watch?
Where do you want to eat?
Any music you want to listen to?
So often, our answers to these seemingly inconsequential questions is, I don’t care. Our intent is to be helpful, to be “easy”, when often our indecision has the opposite effect.
In the summer of 2020, I spent five weeks in the hospital. I was labeled a “fall risk”, and so to avoid being strapped and restrained to my bed, I followed the rules. I could not get up without supervision or assistance. And with no caretakers allowed in hospitals during the COVID-19 Pandemic, I spent a lot of time staring at ceiling tiles thinking about all the things I wanted but could not have, or at least could not have right away.
I wanted the blinds opened.
I wanted the box fan turned 45 degrees to the left.
I wanted a cup of water.
I wanted to go home.
It was in these hours of isolation that I began to learn to recognize my own voice, to hear my own desires, and to ask for what I wanted.
When I was discharged from the hospital, I realized that I retained this newfound skill. When people asked my opinion about trivial matters, I suddenly found that I had one.
One day, not long after my hospital release, I was meeting a friend at the pool. I had forgotten a towel, so I called my friend to ask if she could grab one for me.
“Sure,” she said. “Which one do you want?”
It was an odd question, and I felt myself default to, It doesn’t matter. I just need a towel.
And then I paused.
She had a striped tasseled towel I had always admired.
I have spent much of my life trying to take the path of least resistance, to be flexible and easygoing in an effort to not inconvenience others.
But my choice of what towel my friend should grab did not inconvenience her at all. In fact, my ability to express my own desires not only freed her from having to make a decision herself, but made it easier for her to help me, to love me.
We have all grown frustrated over others’ indecision—when we can’t decide what to make for dinner or what to do on a Friday night. Sometimes the best way to love ourselves and others is to listen to our own voice. To pause and consider what we want.
Maybe if we practice being decisive in the small things--in the restaurants we patron, in the music we play, in the movies we watch—we’ll be ready to be decisive when it comes to the big things—in the places we live, in the people we love, in the careers we pursue.
So the next time we find ourselves facing a choice, even as inconsequential as what towel to throw in our beach bag, pause and ask What do I want? We might surprise ourselves with an answer. And maybe the next time we’re faced with a choice of consequence, we can recognize the sound of our own voice, and we’ll know to trust it.