(Originally posted 10/10/2011. Reposting after having just seen Dave again, three years after I wrote this. All still true.)
This weekend I was treated to a visit from my dear friends, Dave and Lyn and their daughter, Alaigne. I first met Dave and Lyn when I was searching for a place to live during the summer of 1991. We ended up living together cooperatively and vegetarian for about three years during which there many laughs, some tears, a number of international guests, home brew, strawberry jam, hot toddies, graduations, divorces, a wedding, and a baby.
Dave and Lyn are from New Zealand and returned there after Dave completed his doctorate. I have seen them once since – when they were coming through the States for a brief lay over about nine years ago. Since that time much has changed for all of us – and it was with great anticipation that I picked them up on Friday afternoon for their weekend visit.
I have often said to others that Dave is the kindest person I have ever met. The time we had together was special – fraught with all sorts of transitions and drama – but through it had many laughs and tender moments of true friendship.
I was very excited to see them again and to have the whole weekend to spend together. I was anxious for my children to meet them and see why I thought so highly of them as people and what they meant to me.
And it was a wonderful visit. We did simple things like apple picking and applesauce making. We had lots of cups of coffee and the kids played many games of chess. I dusted off my copy of the Moosewood Cookbook and remembered how to cook without any meat for the weekend.
On Saturday, I brought them by CNS and showed them around. They did not know me as a preschool teacher and they were curious to learn about what it is that I do now. Dave found the brick in my office to be particularly humorous, “Listen More, Speak Less”. He thought that was directed especially toward me and had been given to me as a gift. I explained that it was something that we try to do every day in our relationships with the children and with each other. I spoke a little about Reggio and our philosophy. He still had a big chuckle – remembering me as the eager graduate student, always ready for a debate or a conversation around our dinner table. I guess I wasn’t such a great listener back then.
Over the years, I have often wondered what it was that made my friendship with Dave so special and so categorically different from any of my other friendships. Seeing him laugh at the brick, I realized something. I realized that what was so special about Dave was in fact his ability to listen. I immediately flashed back to the evening before, watching him bleary eyed and exhausted, listen to my son Hugh describe what was happening in every single picture from our Montana trip. And later, how he patiently explained seismology to Maggie and Harry – answering all their questions and listening to their observations about what it must be like to live in a country where earthquakes are a regular occurrence and almost an inevitability.
Dave approaches every conversation, every person, with the same patience and respect. He listens. And in listening, he nurtures his relationships. I realize that he was nurturing me all those years ago in Cambridge. That best friendship had its foundation built on that kind of patience, that kind of listening. And the comfort of silence – that sometimes it’s all right not to have anything to say at all.
This is what we strive for at CNS when we say “Listen More, Speak Less”. It is in that listening that relationship is grounded. Where it has space to be nurtured. When that connection is not all about your own personal relationship to the materials or the world, but when you are just as curious and genuinely interested in what the other person has to say, share, or worry about. It is then an authentic relationship. There is tremendous patience involved in this kind of listening – especially with children. But the benefits are tremendous.
I love that there are layers to our lives and to our life experience that continue to repeat themselves in time and space just when you might not be expecting it. I never thought that in seeing Dave again, I would have this perspective about why it is that our relationship is so special and how that relates to my work at CNS. I feel deep appreciation today – not only because Dave and Lyn came to visit – because I am newly recharged in my mission to listen deeply and patiently to each person I meet and to never hurry through a chance to touch someone’s life by hearing their words. This was Dave’s gift to me. And mine to you.