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22nd November: Listening Demands Patience

... encourage the timid, help the weak and be very patient with all men. 1 Thes 5:14 (JBP)

It was just after midnight on the second night of the long air journey from London to Sydney. Only a few hours to go -- a few hours to sleep or doze... `If there's a doctor on the plane, will he please come to the rear cabin?' Oh, no! Not just now! Still, one must go. And three somewhat jaded doctors meet in the rear cabin. `Sorry to trouble you, doctors, but a young man is disturbing other passengers, and we can't seem to manage him. Can you help?' We'll try.

The young man is pale, thin, smoking steadily, talking incessantly, on guard. Overtly hostile to the cabin crew and defiant to the Captain, he refuses to return to his seat. His speech is coherent, but extravagant, and he is suspicious of everyone -- except, curiously, of doctors. Even from them he refuses sedatives. But anyway, let's talk to him -- rather listen to him. Listening it is, and being seen to listen. The stream of problems, dreams, hopes, frustrations, fantasies, pours out. And again and again comes the appeal: `You're doctors, you understand, don't you?' Yes, we understand -- and go on listening, through the long night, in relays of one or two at a time. He is never left alone. It is wearisome, yet fascinating and sad, for a deeper unspoken appeal for help is there behind the words. We can't meet that in this passing encounter, but still we can listen. The hours pass as the floor becomes littered with cigarette butts (the doctors don't smoke) and tea cups (we share those).

As the plane comes into Sydney, somehow we are reluctant to leave him. The talking and the listening have made some sort of bond. One of the doctors, longing to do something more, shakes the young man's hand: `good bye, mate. God bless you'. The young man turns his head to one side, sudden tears in his eyes, and something like a sob escapes. Then he is his garrulous self again. Emotionally labile? Yes, but momentarily responsive to a gesture. Perhaps it was not wasted.

Then the reception party, alerted by radio, takes over and he is gone. The cabin crew is grateful. We disembark. What had we done? Well, we had kept the peace on the plane and been patient with a troubled young man. We had listened. And one of us had whispered that God was there.

Grant us, Lord, the love that brings patience, and the patience to listen.

Further reading: 1 Cor 13:4-7


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