The art of listening

On a busy October afternoon at the Mountain View Neighborhood Library, a folding table set up near the front door provided an oasis of calm: A place to talk.

Christine Reichman was there to listen.

Every Wednesday from 11 a.m.- 7 p.m., volunteers with an organization called the Listening Post come to the library to lend an ear to anyone who needs it. Reichman has been listening for years, she said. Over hundreds of personal conversations with strangers, she’s faced the full range of human emotion — madness, mania, fury, fear and everything in between. She’s heard stories about troubles, triumphs and tragedies, she said.

“The personal things we get told are….dramatic,” she said, sitting at her table at the library one Wednesday afternoon.

At that table, strangers share some of their deepest thoughts and feelings. Reichman and the other volunteers listen without judgement or comment.

“We’re all kind of in awe of the trust people give us,” she said. “To trust a stranger is a remarkable thing.”

The Listening Post in Anchorage opened in the Downtown Transit Center in 2008, according to cofounder Marcia Wakeland. After the nonprofit lost its downtown space several years ago, the volunteers set up their table at the Mountain View library, Wakeland said. The facility was a natural fit.

“It’s a community center — it really is,” Wakeland said. “I just fell in love with it right away.”

At the library, the Listening Post’s patrons come from every circumstance and walk of life. There are elders and youth, people with homes and without, with jobs and without, with families and without. Reichman brings pencils, papers, postcards and deep wells of patience. She listens to the middle schoolers who stop by to draw and the adults who just want to sit.

On one afternoon, a woman with slurred speech and stumbling steps walked off with the papers on the table.

“Hey — I just stole some,” she said, returning a moment later and sitting down in an empty chair, sliding the papers back across the table. “I hope you understand I didn’t mean it.”

She wanted to talk; she wanted someone to listen. She wanted to make a postcard for her dad, she said. For a moment, she sat and wrote in silence.

“Do you think you could send it for me?” she asked.

“I can do that,” Reichman said.

Categories: Blog

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