As we come close to the end of our year here at Sycamore House, I feel more comfortable looking back at it and reflecting on what’s happened.
Frankly, in absolute, earth-shaking terms not a lot has happened. The COVID-19 pandemic has more or less kept us inside for months, and we’d only occasionally go out for dinner and scurry back home or maybe walk along the riverfront. I’m told that Sycamore House was known for grandiose social events and a great deal of involvement with the community. There were apparently miniature concerts in our little basement. We’d meet with members of the Board frequently. We’d be out and about doing a lot of things. All things that I know intellectually, yet have no visceral frame of reference for.
And yet, despite how difficult this year has been in many respects, I’m also grateful for it. I actually am grateful that not a lot has happened. I have been frequently described as contemplative, serious, and quiet — none of which I deny. I frequently acknowledge that I am more or less an introvert. That is, social interactions do not so much energize me but drain me, (which is not to be confused with social anxiety or awkwardness). It would frankly have been much harder for me if I needed to engage with people so frequently in the ways that previous alumni have. I’m grateful for how quiet it has been. It has enabled me to have the quiet space that I need, and to focus on my work which requires almost constant empathetic engagement with people who are either in crisis or close to it because of the very same pandemic keeping us pent up here.
I think I can be reasonably sure that I have done good, necessary work in my capacity as an ESC volunteer partnered with CONTACT Helpline. I’ve served Central Pennsylvania’s community in a hard time for everyone, and while I won’t reiterate what my day-to-day is like, it’s had an indelible impact on me, both as meaningful service and as an obstacle and stressor.
Today, we had an “adult forum,” or Q&A in which we answered questions posed to us by our program director and members of the community. When asked what a valuable takeaway from this year was for me, I said without hesitation that it has been learning how to listen.
I used to think I was a good listener, but truthfully I was very bad at it. If the conversation was one I was interested in, I’d constantly interrupt the other speaker. I’d dominate the conversation. I’d be sharing knowledge, giving advice, bursting through the seams with words.
Instead, I’ve learned to shut up and listen when someone needs to talk. I’ve learned to patiently participate – and not just by enduring until I have my ‘turn’ so to speak, but by also caring about what the other speaker has to say. It was a kind of gift which I was immensely skeptical of in my intellectual pride at the beginning of the year, and now in which I wholeheartedly believe, even if it doesn’t always magically solve whatever problem or hardship is being expressed. This is a skill that I’ll take with me throughout my whole life, and one I suspect will be invaluable when dealing with other people, which will always be a part of the human experience unless I find myself in a truly exceptional and dire situation.
The year has been difficult, it’s true. But God has a way of pulling the good from the bad, and I’ve seen that play out this year as much as any other.