Story - The Importance of listening

The Woman in the Woods

I believe there is nothing better than a story to explain the importance of listening and what counselling can achieve.

'The Woman in the Woods'

Claudia Bläß

Once upon a time there was a young woman. Let’s call her Ella, just so she has a name. Even though it doesn’t really matter.

She lived in the forest around the castle. She had studied nature for as long as she could think. She would sit quietly for hours and watch, learn. The creatures of the forest were unafraid of her, seeing her as one of their own.

When she went to the market she would study the men and women around her, their voices, the way they talked with their faces and arms.

One day though while she was walking through the forest she felt a darkness coming. The birds flew startled to their nests, the squirrels and rabbits rustling through the leaves to their homes. Ella didn’t understand where the darkness had come from so she herself hurried home towards safety.

The next day she heard the whispers at the market, the Queen had fallen sick, a curse, turned into a beast, insane. Wherever you went there was a different story. But all were saying the same, the Queen had changed overnight.  

All the doctors were summoned to do whatever it takes to cure the Queen. The first doctor went in and recoiled from the sight of her. She had turned into a shadow of herself, a wild shadow. She had been clutching her hair that now was a wild mess, little lines of blood covered her face where she had scratched herself. She was huddled into a corner, eyes closed, softly crying and rocking herself. As the doctor without hesitation approached, quick, loud steps, her eyes flew open and she started to scream. Surely she is possessed the doctor diagnosed. We will drive the evil out of her and so they tried. But the next doctor found the Queen unchanged. Surely it’s a disease he said. I will have medicine for that and so it was done. The next doctor only found the Queen a little drowsier, but otherwise unchanged. He shouted at her to stop it, to be calm. Stop crying he said. Stop screaming. But she would only scream louder. The fourth doctor was different. He tried to talk to her. He told her in a reasonable voice that there was no need to scream, that everything was alright. All will be well, all will be fine, there was no need to worry. Now surely she would understand that it was time to calm down. But the Queen did not. She kept crying, huddling in her corner.

Incurable the doctors said, grave faces. There is nothing that can be done. The young woman, who had been intrigued and had come along to the castle like so many, to see what was happening, came forward. She went passed the doctors and stood in front of the King. ‘Might I help the Queen?’ she asked.

The doctors laughed. ‘Woman!’ they said. ‘Surely if we can’t help, what would you have to offer?’ The woman thought about it, because that’s what she did, she thought about stuff and said ‘An open mind’.

The King, quite desperate and willing to try all agreed for the woman to see the Queen. The woman looked at him ‘I do have one condition.’ The doctors were outraged.  

How dare she. Surely she should be happy enough to be heard and not kicked out of the castle. And now she was making demands. Of the King! The King sighed and nodded ‘What is it that you want?’ ‘Time’ she said, ‘I want one week with the Queen.’. The doctors smirked. They were used to quick fixes. That’s what they did. A week! Surely that would show the king that she wasn’t needed, but the King to the astonishment of the doctors agreed. The woman was let to the Queen’s room and quietly walked in.

The Queen was still huddled in her corner. She was crying and had her blanket clutched around herself. She looked like she was trying to escape from the world.   

The woman went to the bed and sat down. The Queen didn’t even notice her and kept sobbing. But the woman just sat there, waiting, being there, studying the Queen. The way she rocked herself faster if there were loud noises on the corridor, the way she calmed down a little when it got quieter. How sometimes she would dig her nails into her arm til there was blood trickling down. How sometimes she hummed to herself. So the first three days passed. The doctors started laughing again, reassured that the woman couldn’t do what they weren’t able to do.

The fourth day passed and still the woman sat at the Queen’s bed, quietly, present.

On the fifth day the Queen looked at her. They looked at each other in silence and the Queen went back to her own little world.  

On the sixth day the Queen sat next to the woman, both were quiet.

Then the Queen said ‘Are you not scared?’ the woman thought about it and said ‘Yes, I am.’ ‘Why are you here?’ ‘To listen to you.’ ‘Why did you not talk to me earlier?’ ‘You weren’t ready.’

They sat in more silence and the woman softly started singing the song she had heard earlier from the Queen.  

The Queen sobbed, but a different sobbing. The young woman put her hand on the Queen’s hand and said ‘It’s ok to be in pain.’

So they sat for the day and when the night fell the Queen started talking.

The young woman let her talk. About the sudden fear that had crept up on her out of nowhere. How she suddenly had felt surrounded by darkness. How she could see the outer world, but somehow couldn’t reach it. How she had cut her arms and face just to feel something. How she had felt the presence of the woman and her patience. The Queen kept talking, the young woman kept listening. Once in a while they would sit in silence. Then the Queen said. ‘My mother would sing that song to me when I was a little girl and felt scared.’ The young woman did not interrupt; she listened and listened and listened til the sun rose again.

On the 7th day the king, closely followed by the doctors came to see the Queen and found her transformed. The shadow hat lifted and the Queen came forth to greet her husband, smiling. Not cured yet, but back in our world.

The doctors, not amused, left, but one. It was the fourth doctor. He looked at the woman, a little resentful, a little curious. ‘What did you give, that I didn’t give?’ he asked.

The woman thought about that. ‘I gave her time.’ She said and then she added ‘And myself. I gave her little bit of myself.’