The Ministry of Listening

Sometimes the best help we can give is a sensitive heart and a listening ear. Let’s remember to listen.

Anton Chekhov understood a newly bereaved parent’s compelling need to talk about their loss. Here are excerpts form his short story, Misery.

With a look of anxiety and suffering Iona’s eyes stray restlessly among the crowds moving to and fro on both sides of the street: can he not find among those thousands someone who will listen to him?

His son will soon have been dead a week, and he has not really talked to anybody yet. He wants to talk of it properly, with deliberation. He wants to tell how his son was taken ill, how he suffered, what he said before he died, how he died. He wants to describe the funeral, and how he went to the hospital to get his son’s clothes… Yes, he has plenty to talk about now. His listener ought to sigh and exclaim and lament. It would be even better to talk to women. Though they are silly creatures, they blubber at the first word.

“He cannot think about his son when he is alone…. To talk about him with someone is possible, but to think of him and picture him is insufferable anguish….”

“Again he is alone and again there is silence for him…. The misery which has been for a brief space eased comes back again and tears his heart more cruelly than ever. With a look of anxiety and suffering Iona’s eyes stray restlessly among the crowds moving to and fro on both sides of the street: can he not find among those thousands someone who will listen to him? But the crowds flit by heedless of him and his misery…. His misery is immense, beyond all bounds. If Iona’s heart were to burst and his misery to flow out, it would flood the whole world, it seems, but yet it is not seen. It has found a hiding-place in such an insignificant shell that one would not have found it with a candle by daylight….”

-From ‘Misery’, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (1860-1904)

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