“Hi!” my caller said when I answered the phone. “I’m Phyllis and I’m soooooooooo glad to talk to you. You are my ideal. You are doing everything I want to do. Thank you soooooooooo much for talking to me.”
She went on talking for at least five minutes, with no apparent need for breathing in between words.
“Hi” I finally managed to say. “So nice to be able to speak with…”
“I read your blog and you said all the words that were in my head,” she gushed, interrupting me. “I told my mother that that’s exactly what I thought. Why can’t people worry about the important things like hunger and violence and….”
Three more (exhausting) minutes went by.
“How is it you think I can be of assistance?” I managed to slip in a tiny pause in our one-sided conversation.
“Well, I am extremely smart and when I get out of school I want to XYZ, and QRS, and ABC, because I think….”
After three more minutes passed with her nonstop resume, I said, “Okay, so how can I help?”
“Well, you’ve done XYZ, QRS and ABC so I thought it could learn how to do that.”
“How old are you?” I asked.
“And what year in school?”
“I’m a first-year graduate student and…” Another three minutes passed.
Important backstory note: It was 7am, and while I’m a morning person, I hadn’t had time to get my coffee. So, I was having a little trouble hanging in with this rapid-fire monologue and, as a result, was feeling a tad jaded. Kind of like an old moose must feel when watching the frantic antics of a young, energetic, eager beaver.
Shaking off my moose imagery, I said to my young caller, “I’m sorry but I have another call in ten minutes so need to move us forward. What can I do for you?”
Long pause (a novelty in this exchange). “Well, I don’t exactly know,” she said.
“Then, why did you call me?” I asked.
“Well…my professor said that you had taken a different path after grad school so I wanted to know how you did it?” she asked.
“I’m afraid we don’t have time for me to get into the detail,” I said. “But what is your goal after graduation?”
“I want to reduce hunger in this country dramatically by creating and funding a nonprofit agency.”
“Would that be immediately after graduation or do you think you might need a little experience in the field?” I asked, leading my witness if you will. Once a lawyer….
Refusing to be led, my young friend went on to describe the five projects she’d been involved in during high school and college, which she believed gave her the experience to now do something on a global scale.
Time for truth: I wasn’t irritated at this young woman, but I was having some reactions to her style and aspirations. Bemused is a word that comes to mind as well as bored and impatient. Most importantly, however, I was familiar, seeing shades of myself at that age (and much later ages as well). I saw myself in her words, knowing everything there was to know about everything, ready to save the world, Fix the world….fix anything—except myself. The moose in me shook her head.
“How good a listener do you think you are?” I asked when she finally took another breath.
With barely a fraction of a second’s pause, she answered, “I’m a terrific listener. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in. I wouldn’t have learned all that I’ve learned. You see, I …”
“Excuse me,” I interrupted, “but my next call is coming in less than five minutes. What do you think you’ve learned from this conversation?”
“Well, I’m overjoyed to have talked to you. I’ve learned soooooooo much. I’m going to follow up on your suggestions and thank you sooooo much.”
I was thinking, What Suggestions?
As I hung up the phone, I had the distinct sense of standing on the shore, watching the extremely eager beaver, dragging tree branches to build her underwater home through my big, coffee-deprived moose eyes.
I wonder if young beavers and old moose ever talk to each other. If my call was any indication, I would say probably not. I wonder if the moose did talk, what would it tell the beaver about building a dam?
This moose would say, “Good luck, eager beaver. You have great energy. Channel some of it into listening. You can fix anything you want in this world, as long as you learn to listen to what it needs. Fix your ears and you will hear the answers you need to fix the world.”