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Listen up! Or at least read this

When, on the darkest days of our life, we need an understanding individual to whom to tell our troubles, the main problem is to find a suitable listener.

I have found it all but impossible to locate a person who is willing to just listen and not interrupt my tale of utter disaster with a comment such as, “I know exactly what you’re talking about – only the guy backed who into my new car didn’t just make a dent, he mashed in the whole driver’s side and rammed my car against a lamp post. I was trapped inside for half an hour and they had to use the ‘jaws of life’ to get me out. I was in the hospital for three weeks. Of course, the car was totaled and I hadn’t gotten around to having it insured.”

The last thing we want to hear about, when we are in extremis, is somebody else’s relatively picayune problems. It is essential to establish that we are the most miserable one around.



We are the main attraction and will not abide competition. Above all, we don’t want a session of “Can You Top This?” We are so absolutely wretched we want it understood that our troubles are not only monumental, they are incomparable, beyond the realm of known human experience. Our difficulties make the Slough of Despond in “The Pilgrim’s Progress” seem like a mud puddle.

And certainly in this dreadful hour of our life, we do not want some robust, sanguine type who is so relentlessly optimistic he would look upon the apocalypse as a kind of block party. This sort listens in a cursory way and then callously suggests that “tomorrow will be a brighter day.” This is accompanied by a pat on the shoulder and the additional patronizing reassurance that “this too shall pass.”




Hah! The immensity of our suffering does not register with such a person. Anyone with true sensitivity would gasp in horror at our description of what we are going through and exclaim, “I have never before in my life heard of anything so dreadful! I can’t imagine how you are managing to remain upright!”

Above all, we do not want some glib type who assumes that all problems are amenable to solution. Any listener who slips in a sentence beginning, “If I were you, I’d get on the Internet and check…” has missed the point entirely.

Our problems defy remedy. There is no way out. We are doomed and all we ask is that somebody listens to our final words as the curtain descends upon the last act of our tragic existence. We want a friend like the one Socrates had who will accept that hemlock is indeed the beverage du jour and is prepared to chronicle our sufferings for posterity.

When we are sitting in sack-cloth and ashes and weeping and wailing and gnashing our teeth, and otherwise lamenting in true biblical style, it is necessary to have an appalled witness who is up to doing a little empathetic forehead smiting, too. (Unfor- tunately having a corps of professional mourners does not seem to have caught on in Western society as it has in other parts of the world, because they would be exactly appropriate to the occasion.) There is absolutely nothing to be said for suffering in silence or, worse yet, in solitude.

H-m-m-m, you know, as I’ve been talking to you, it occurs to me that I’ve always considered you quite a sensitive person who has the capacity to tune into other people’s feelings. Let me tell you what happened to me while I was on my way over here to see you …

Lucille Lovestedt lives in Grass Valley.


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