Most of us have wondered at one time or another how differently a particular situation or conversation might have turned out if we had only managed to say just the right thing.

But have you ever wondered how a moment could have been different if you’d have only remained quiet and listened more?

Billy Graham, who is retiring this year at the age of 86, had such an experience and he shared it with NBC reporter Brian Williams last month. The interview with the man who has arguably spoken to more people than any other person alive, revealed an event Graham still finds troubling – yet it wasn’t over something Graham had said, but over something he’d failed to hear.

In his own words from the NBC web site:
Rev. Graham: I had spoken at a breakfast and John Kennedy was sitting beside me. And he whispered to me, he said, “Will you ride back to the White House with me?” And I said, “You know, Mr. President,” I said, “I’m sick.” I said, “I have a fever and I don’t think I ought to ride in the car with you and go to the White House. Let me come over some other time.” And he smiled and he said, “OK.” And I have often wondered what did he want to talk about? And I never got that opportunity because he died a few months later. And that, to me, is a mystery that I would like cleared up when I get to heaven.

Usually when I think back on my previous conversations, I’ll busy myself rewriting the conversations in my head with all the words I wish I’d have said. Yet in Graham’s encounter, when he had the opportunity to privately say anything to the most powerful man in the free world, Graham only regrets missing an opportunity to hear the words of President Kennedy.

Thirteen years ago, I recall such a regret in my life. My father called me on the eve of his 65th birthday at 6:57 p.m. I know the time because Star Trek – The Next Generation came on at 7 p.m.

Yet as soon as I recognized his voice, I began wondering how I might engage him just long enough to satisfy his need for conversation, but short enough to see the Enterprise engage the latest alien threatening the universe.

6:59 p.m.: I asked him, what he was most looking forward to about his birthday? And he easily answered that he was hopeful about his new career in Real Estate. Good question. Good answer. Done.

7:02 p.m.: “Hey dad, can I call you back in an hour? I got something going on here.” (I guess you can call TV “something,” although I can’t tell you what.)

7:03 p.m. We said some quick goodbyes and I scrambled for the remote. I clicked on the TV – annoyed I’d missed the crucial introduction of the show.

36 hours later another phone call — it was my mom, her voice recalling my failed promise to return my dad’s call.

“Norris, you’re dad’s gone.”

“Where did he go?”

Lost in my own world I wasn’t hearing the euphemism. “Gone” was my mother’s way of telling me that my father died shortly after falling to sleep on the night of his birthday.

No regrets over what I said, but endless regrets over not taking the time to listen. What more might have he said? Was there more wisdom to share? He didn’t call often. Why had he called?

As Rev Graham pointed out, we won’t know the answers in this life. But with each recollection of that failed conversation, it becomes harder and harder to wait on heaven.

“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15)