Two parents once came up to me after a school board meeting and thanked me profusely. They felt so much better. At the time, I thought I hadn’t done anything. No decision had been made. But I had done something. I had simply let them talk; I listened; I empathized.

Recently, I emailed my former neighbors — rabidly, on the attack — and asked how dare they employ my ex-husband? How dare they pay him cash when he hasn’t paid child support in years? I expected my former neighbors to be defensive and angry, but, instead, the email I received back was kind and thoughtful and incredibly insightful. They’ll likely keep employing him, but at that point, I didn’t even care. Their empathy for me had opened up my heart to be empathetic for their plight, too.

What makes me remember this on a breezy autumn is maybe nothing but my own unhappiness about the adult world, both in general and in particular. Recently, I realized with the work I’m doing now, I could actually pack up and take a geographical cure from my immediate adult world, head somewhere else to work for the next four months. Like, perhaps, a desert cave.

Bad idea, I think. Those former neighbors and I have finally made our peace, and this one is likely to be lasting.

On a withered branch
A crow has alighted:
Nightfall in autumn

— Basho


By Brett Ann Stanciu

Brett Ann Stanciu lives with her two daughters in Hardwick, Vermont. Her creative nonfiction book, Unstitched: My Journey to Understand Opioid Addiction and How People and Communities Can Heal, will be published by Steerforth Press in September 2021. Her novel about rural life in Vermont, Hidden View, was published in 2015.


  1. I certainly empathize with your story, it is too familiar to me. Your strength shows in your resolve. The willingness to listen is such a rare and beautiful gift. Take care and keep moving forward.

    1. Not listening is a fault I find in myself repeatedly. And yet I still seem to believe that listening might be a path out of the current political morass….. Clearly, I’m not alone in thinking this.

      1. I hope so. I have noticed the desire to ‘talk over’ people is somehow seen as a strength and a power play. I find it rude and indicative of someone who cannot listen, process and respond in a clear and concise manner. Now if we could find a way to encourage each other to listen.

  2. As the saying goes, you’ve got 2 ears and 1 mouth. Mother Nature has already decided upon the optimal communication ratio, with of course the caveat of hearing versus listening. GT

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