THE story in a recent issue (February, 1960) of the Grapevine about AA life on an Indian Reservation called to mind a true story which has almost become a legend out here in the Southwest. At a meeting in Southern Arizona, three Papago Indians were in attendance one night. Two were very young and one was very old. After the meeting both of the younger men pumped the speaker’s hand and thanked him very profusely. The old Indian also jabbered something in his native tongue and one of the younger men interpreted it to the speaker as follows, “He say he don’t know what you say, but he like where the words come from.”
We have learned the art of listening in this fellowship and how wonderful has been the result. It is one of the great dividends that many of us overlook. Have you ever sat in an easy pleasant conversation with another of our fellowship when things took a sudden turn? You each listened avidly to the other, then you found yourself saying things that astonished even you. Something seemed to emerge from it all and there was a simple naturalness in the long pause that followed.
If this has happened to you, then you know that you come out of it with a feeling of rapture, a feeling that for a minute you have been very close to a higher power. Have you ever been writing a letter to an old friend in the fellowship, when your thoughts and meditation about him came into focus and your writing took an exciting new turn? You have actually listened to memories, you have been listened to and heard, and your whole message is recast as a result. Somehow it seems as though you have been close to holy ground.
Have you ever found yourself talking to an old timer when the very quality of his listening seemed to change your whole course? Perhaps you were feeling awfully sorry for yourself and had intended to pour out all the agonies that had brought you to a current dry drunk. Perhaps you wanted a quart or two, of sympathy at least. But then, with the understanding love of his complete attention, the true state of things gradually dawned on you. You no longer needed the sympathy or a crying towel.
Or perhaps you sought out this old-timer to confess something that you could no longer keep in your own heart. You were not at all sure of the courage to tell how low you had fallen and began in evasively safe regions, unsure of both yourself and your friend. But the complete and easy attentiveness of your friend lifted the latch on the gate, it opened quietly, and all that you were holding back tumbled out. Now it was out, now it was over, and you had died a little death perhaps, but in the patient kindly eyes of a great and understanding friend, into which you had hardly dared to lift your own in the beginning, you found that you were still loved and still living in a great sober life which many never come to know.
Yes, one of the truly great gifts in this fellowship of mutually concerned people is this gift in the art of listening. How many times have you heard someone say that they have never seen an audience as intense and kindly as an AA group? And how true it is that almost everyone would rather listen than lead. But our need to listen goes beyond meetings and talks with friends. One of the ancients said, “No man can spend more in good works than he earns in meditation.” We need Step Eleven and our greater conscious contact with the Divine Listener. Then will our serenity emerge, then will our help to others have quality.