Listening, Loving – Present

By Mark E. Smith

It can be argued that there’s no song more emblematic of the late 1960’s counter culture of flower-power, psychedelic drugs, and free love than “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix.

However, contrary to the logical presumption that Purple Haze is about drug use, the late Hendrix swore it is a love song, a lament about a girl. And, he pointed to the lyrics, Whatever it is, that girl put a spell on me.

Of course, the lyrics that most of us know from Purple Haze are, Excuse me while I kiss the sky. But, what really puts it all into context is the preceding verse, Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why? And, so you have an amazing, iconic song about a love-sick guy, not knowing how to get himself out of a bad place, questioning, Is it tomorrow or just the end of time?

Fast forward 40-something years, and in today’s culture, the love-sick soul in Hendrix’ masterpiece becomes seen in a vastly different context, pathologized – that is, someone who needs help, some sort of intervention. Hendrix’ lyrics could easily be, Excuse me while I fix this guy.

See, we now live in a culture where it’s not OK to sometimes not be OK – and sometimes we’re just not OK, and it’s OK! Truly, we live in a society where everyone wants to fix everyone – if you have a problem, there’s no shortage of friends, family, TV personalities, doctors, and prescription drugs ready to fix you. And, yes, sometimes we need help – clinical mental health issues and various dependencies require medical intervention.

Yet, a lot of times, when we’re seemingly not OK, it’s OK. In my roles, I hear from a lot of families who want to help their loved ones who have disabilities. And, what I’ve come to understand is that a lot of times, the best help is no help – simply listen, love, and be “present” – and let the person work through his or her emotions and problems in his or her own time and way. For the most part (again, with the exception of clinical issues), we have an innate way of finding our way through the proverbial dark spots in life, back to the sunlight, where all we really need is time, space, and someone to just listen and be present with us during trying times, without judging or preaching. As Wayne Dyer puts it, “Love is the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves without any insistence that they satisfy you.”

As a full-time single dad raising a teen daughter, I’ve been practicing what I’ve coined the “listen-love-present approach” – and it’s challenging! I mean, I have all kinds of advice just waiting to be blurted out, but that’s not what my daughter – or most people! – need or want. Rather, what my daughter needs and wants is for me to listen, love, and be present – not dish-out advice. Sure, there are places and times for advice – including with my daughter – but, there are far more moments where the listen-love-present approach is the most sincerest form of support that we can give others.

I have an oversized, over-stuffed chair with pillows in my master bedroom. And, some evenings, my daughter will come in when I’m in bed watching TV, and she’ll curl up in that chair, and start talking. Recently, in that comfy chair, she shared with me that she’d just been dumped by her date for the Semi-Formal school dance – that is, it wasn’t just her first real school dance and “date,” but her first time being dumped. As a father, I could have given her tons of immediate advice and opinions: You’re beautiful, and he’s an idiot. I’m sure you’ll have new date in no time. We all get dumped. You won’t remember his name in 10 years. Look at how many times I’ve been dumped, and I’m fine. Everyone gets dumped – it’s just part of life. But, I didn’t tell her any of it because it would have no effect. If I did, it would really be a dismissal, wouldn’t it? Yeah, yeah – you’re 15. Trust me, you’ll get over it! That’s no way to treat anyone in real pain, who, as Hendrix noted, is questioning in a way, Is it tomorrow or just the end of time?

Rather, I asked her some listen-love-present questions: How’s this situation make you feel? …What do you think about the guy who bailed on you? …What are you going to do about the dance? And, she found the answers within herself, not just that evening, but in the coming days. (And, she gave me permission to share this story with you, as I would never betray her confidence.)

The fact is, as her father, my role is to facilitate her growth, not dictate it – and, as a father, there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing your child overcome life’s hurdles in healthy ways on his or her own, where he or she needs love, not fixing. However, this really applies to all our relationships, where often the best way to support someone isn’t with advice, but just loving, listening, and being present.

See, the truest lessons are often learned not through advice or preaching from others, but by thinking and feeling on our own – with someone who’s listening, loving, and present along the way, when we’re fortunate. As for my daughter, of course another boy asked her to the dance. And, as one might presume from Purple Haze, being broken hearted – for any number of reasons in life! – certainly shouldn’t be equated with being broken. We all need someone to listen to us from time to time, but rarely do we need fixing.


Author: Mark E. Smith

The literary side of the WheelchairJunkie

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