So there I am: shaven headed, about 8 stone, arm covered in bandages and sipping coffee in the coffee shop where I would sit for hours, literally. Now in my 40s, I was completely resigned to the fact that nobody listened then, nobody listens now and nobody would in the future. I now had it all nicely planned with even a location in mind: I was so very tired and ready to leave.

The door of the coffee shop opens and in walks M. I couldn’t really see her face, but I felt something. Something ‘other’ is the only way I can describe the feeling. I thought how nice it would be to say hello, but why bother – I wasn’t planning on sticking around for much longer. So I drank my coffee and got up to leave. I had the habit of always taking my cup back to the counter and as I did I passed M.

She simply asked, ‘Would you like some company?’ I said that I would and I sat down with her. She then asked something amazingly powerful: ‘tell me about yourself.’

I couldn’t believe it! Someone making eye contact and genuinely asking me about, well, me! I thought that since I had nothing to lose, I would tell this stranger everything, and I did for the next hour or so! She listened, never interrupting and towards the end of the tale of my life she simply smiled and gently touched a scar on my arm and asked, ‘what’s that?’ The question did not feel intrusive and so I told her. She smiled and carried on listening. Once I had finished, M told me her tale and neither of us could quite believe the similarity of our stories.

We met up again that evening for ‘dinner’. I wasn’t eating at this point, so I had literally two dolly-mixtures: one for my lunch, one for my dinner. We walked and talked and she asked about the normal things, hobbies, books, music etc. Wow, normality for a brief second. I walked M home that night and then telephoned my mother.

Me: ‘I’m in love!’

Mother: ‘What?, who? don’t be silly? What are getting involved with now? What?’

We were married in 2009

The point of this is simple: non-judgment, listening and empathy are amazingly powerful tools of transformation in any situation; whether personally or on a global scale. M never once try to fix me, or cure me or heal me. However, the comfort of simply having someone listen and genuinely care is staggering.

Of course, I was still not eating at the beginning of our journey and one day M invited me over to where she was living for lunch. I walked into a full spread of Middle Eastern meze and broke down sobbing! The overwhelming sense of wanting to help without judging or even saying anything literally floored me. Its a running joke that her cooking made me cry; but in a good way!

Its a huge shame in many ways that I found M late on in life. Who knows what my life would have been like if I had received that kind of support early on, and I mean from family, friends and of course the medical profession.

Knowing each others conditions, we never had rocky times between us as a couple. Though we did individually experience, and still do, a lot of dark moments. With the empathy forged from experience we were/are both there for each other in amazing ways. Mostly through listening, letting it pass and then moving on to the ‘normality’ of cooking, listening to music, going for a walk and so on.

I’m not advocating love at first sight as a cure all, but I do advocate three simple, yet powerful tools: non-judgment, listening, empathy.

If you can offer these, then it’s amazing who you can help. If you receive these, then I hope their power touches you in ways you never thought possible.

John also writes poetry of power and passion. It is not for the faint-hearted and contains adult language. This link will take you to a poem entitled Red Mist, which deals with issues of anger and alienation. Poetry is a major part of John’s enduring search for meaning.
The link is:

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