Do you ever ask someone a question that seems to break open a floodgate of information that you really didn't intend on getting, but you get it anyway? A simple 'How Are You?' can trigger a load of information that may be better left on a counselor's couch than the two minutes you have available at the moment to listen. Somehow the person is just bursting to tell somebody, right then and there. And you happen to be the lucky person who gets to be the listening ear, whether you want to be or not. That is the time when one needs to gauge the importance of listening to a fellow human being in need of venting or the need to continue on your own course of scheduled work, which is always SO important, because you own that piece of time, to do with whatever you may and it will never return to you again.
This is what happened to me just the other day when I was on the job working for the Census. My job is to follow up with those folks who either didn't get their Census 2010 forms filled out and returned or they didn't get them for one reason or the other. Most of the time, things go really smoothly. I just need a count of who lived in the home on April 1st of 2010, the names if they have them, the dates of birth and race. That's it.
So, the other day (meaning sometime during the past two months) I knocked on a door and a kid answers (I say kid loosely, he was probably 22 - 23 years of age). He was really polite and told me that he'd be happy to answer the Census questions except for the fact that he had to rush to court. "I've GOT to make this". he said. "I'll be in a world of hurt if I don't." I wished him good luck and went on my way.
I found him home about a week later and he was in a more relaxed way and we proceeded to complete the census questionnaire both seated cross-legged on the front lawn. I casually asked him how his court date went and that's when the floodgates came open.
He told me a 30 minute story that was amazing. A short, watered down version goes like this: "My sister and "this guy" had been dating for awhile, when she decided to call it off. She, in the meantime, had decided to go on a mission for her church and was a virgin, saving herself for her marriage. She went back to "this guy's" house to retrieve some items she had left there. When she went into the house, he apprehended her and proceeded to assault her and rape her. I happened to come up to the house because I was going to pick her up. I heard her screaming before I got to the door and when I burst into the house, I saw "this guy" in the act of raping my sister. I did what anyone with any love or loyalty for their family would do, I took a baseball bat and beat him to a bloody pulp.By the time I was through with him, he was lucky to be alive. I told the cops what had happened and they told me they would do the same thing, if it had been them. But when I got to the police station, it was a different story. I was treated badly, put in jail, left there for 2 weeks before being allowed to leave with bail, and was told I would most probably serve a minimum 10-year sentence in prison for 1st degree assault, a felony." My eyes lit up and I gleefully exclaimed, because I'm bright like that, "So, THAT is where you were going in such a hurry when I came last time!" "Yes, that's right", he patiently acknowledged. By this time, I wasn't in as much of a hurry as I thought I was a few minutes before.
"So what happened in court?"
"Well, they were ready to throw the book at me and send me to prison for 10 years or more. The prosecuting attorney was demanding justice for what I had done, regardless of who "this guy" had hurt and who I was defending. Things looked pretty bleak. But then the defending attorney found some blatant discrepancies in the testimonies of the officers who were the first ones at the scene. At first they said one thing about my statements and then they retracted that and said something else. Because of that one thing, my defending attorney was able to get a jury to look at that and they found me 'Not Guilty' and I was dismissed of all charges. But even if I was found guilty and put in prison for years, I would still do the same thing. Nobody is going to do that to my sister and not hear from me. It turns out "this guy" was a married man and she didn't even know."
"I'm very glad that you're not in prison!" I said. And thanks for sticking up for your sister and yet not killing that guy! And most of all, thanks for helping me to help you get counted in Census 2010! Have a great day!"
As I drove away, I thought, "It's what anyone would do--listen to a fellow citizen!" I'm glad I took the time to listen. he needed it, but more than that, I needed it. And it gave me some definite things to think about.