Listen...

This is a word we all know well. We've been told for years to listen to our teachers, to our parents, to our bosses and so on. But, what does it truly mean to listen? I thought I understood the importance of this word, but I didn't. At least not until I arrived in a Maori village on the South Island of New Zealand.

There were 32 of us on my study abroad trip and, at the point of this story, we had traveled hundreds of miles, moving every two to three days so we could experience the entire country. Fascinating, right? Well, for many, sleep was the only important word ringing in our ears when we reached Te'Whakarewarewa, The Living Maori Village.

The entire group sat beneath the hunched trees and wide-open skies of the village, but as night fell our guide began to speak and many drifted away. Four of us gathered around our tiny, 80-year-old tour guide under a blanket of darkness. Her name was Kris and I called her my Maori mama. The five of us sat beneath the night sky, looking up to see perfect silhouettes of the Milky Way galaxy and the Southern Cross.

Kris told us about her story, her children's story, Maori legends, and traditions. I could've been there for hours but it felt like precious minutes. I guess that's what happens when you're in a once in a lifetime moment. Kris had been through everything life can throw at a person, and came through her experience with a wisdom I can only hope to gain in my years on this earth. Her brown wrinkles formed beautiful patterns on her face. She almost didn't seem real, but she was the most genuine human being I've ever met. Her golden voice was faint and hidden inside the calls of crickets and the whispers of the cool wind that enveloped our bodies.

As the stories of her past rolled off her tongue, I began to learn the importance of listening. I hung onto every word she said, realizing that her words were impacting my life in such a way I could never have foreseen. I cried and laughed with her and our friends sitting close beside us. Collectively, we understood it was not our time to speak. We all kept our lips shut and our ears open, allowing her unabashed emotions to flood our hearts.

I spoke to these friends recently and found we all learned a very similar lesson from this unique experience. Every single person you speak to has the ability to change your life. No matter how young or old someone is, they have a story. You just have to be willing to lend your ears to their voice. Who knows, the person you decide to listen to today may impact you forever.

When I took the opportunity to listen to Kris, I learned the importance of detail in my life. Each experience I have is a sensory one with every part of me heightened to a level that did not exist prior to this night. With each painful memory she shared, she remembered to tell us she has no regrets. She's made the most of what she's been given, forever grateful for every single fragment of her 80 years.