I couldn’t sleep after my first ballet performance (in case you were wondering, it was Laurel Valley Studio’s second rendition of “The Lost Children,” sometime around 1990). The heat of the lights and the swirl of the costumes kept me awake long after bedtime — as well as the memory of my favorite dancer named Crystal who broke her wrist onstage during her solo. Sometime in what seemed the middle of death (as nighttime always seemed to me as a kid), I crept over to my parents’ room.
“Mommy?” I said.
I remember searching for words to explain why I was awake. “I’m glad Crystal’s okay.”
“Me too. How about you sleep with me for a little while?”
And so I climbed into the warm space of the bed that my dad had left empty when going to milk cows, and I fell asleep with the sense that my mom would always be there whenever I needed her. For anything.
Is listening an art, a craft, or a choice? Is it the ability to be on the same wavelength as someone anytime they need you, or is it a skill you hone in order to read the longing in somebody else’s eyes?
For me, listening, like silence, is trust. But it is also peace. For me, growing up with a mother who would put down the phone, turn off the vacuum, and allow me to talk was fundamental to my ability to work through problems, express myself, and learn that I needed to lean on others beyond myself. And this way in which she allowed to breathe also founded my understanding of the friend, partner, sister, and teacher I want to be.
But what is incredible about my mom — about both my parents, actually; as well as my family; and especially my boyfriend, now that I’m really thinking — is the way in which not only has their ability to listen continued, but the way in which their love is followed up by selfless action.
“Just tell us when you need us,” my dad says each time I return to Pittsburgh for a new semester, “and we’ll be there.”
And they all have been. Such support — in action, in patience, and in the words at the end of the phone — give me a foundation on which to stand. Strength to go on. And love to share with others.