In the middle of a conversation with a friend from the south, I realized that he represents the best of a southern gentleman. Ironically, the realization came as he shared an insider’s view of his family situation. His son, a three-time offender, is in prison. As the story unfolded in a segue-moment that made sense at the time, there was part of me that wanted to move on with the main subject. As the words began to form in my mouth, there was something deep within that stopped me.
He had always been patient and kind in our conversations. No matter what the topic, he always gave his undivided attention. Nothing in our conversation was ever rushed, but then again that is the way of the south. In our case, there was something more. He seemed to sense my heart, knowing the knowing between something that was important and the trivial. He listened in a way that told me that he cared. He responded in a way that told me that he understood. In this case, I realized he was sharing from his heart. Giving back a bit of what he had already given me was the least that I could do.
As a Yankee, there is something that I can learn. Conversations are best when both are flowing into the moment. Giving one’s full attention is a gift to the other that is valued even though it may not be understood at the time. Responding with empathy is a way to affirm the other has been heard and understood. Treating every conversation with respect raises the trust and potential for hope.
As I look back, I realize that although we rarely see each other, we are on a shared journey. It is as “if one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.” (1 Corinthians 12.26)
I know everyone from the south is not like this. I cannot help but hope that I become a southerner like him.