This I Believe

Andrew - Evansville, Indiana
Entered on September 13, 2008

Stephanie Lines first heard my voice during AP Literature.

I was fifteen, a sophomore in high school, sitting in class when Stephanie turned around to pass a stack of papers. I thanked her, but she continued to stare at me. Her face was confused and bore a ruffled brow. I thought perhaps I’d taken her paper by mistake, but that was not the case. I felt my face for any remnants of my recent lunch, but there were none. I subtly checked my breath.

“Is something wrong?� I asked.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever heard your voice,â€? she said.

I’m often told I’m quiet or not talkative. And whenever someone mentions this, I think of John Wayne as an American boxer living in Ireland, carrying a dark secret in the film The Quiet Man. It turns out Wayne likes to speak more with his fists when he fights a man in the streets, but the title sticks with me and is one I like to embrace—minus the sordid history and street brawling.

Silence, as I’ve come to learn through the years, is feared by some. In a society that believes in freedom of speech, everyone has something to say—the absence of which is cause for suspicion. If my life were a procedural TV crime drama, I would be the reserved, mild-mannered suspect interviewed early in the show who quickly turns into a murderer by the conclusion.

When you’ve been quiet for so long, it’s hard to change your ways, just as it’s harder to learn a language after a certain age. But I’ve found that when my mouth isn’t open, I’m listening—professors lecturing, students walking across campus, the crack of a wooden bench as a pianist plays the “Claire de Lune,â€? women debating on how to cook a lobster on a train ride to Chicago.

It’s jewels like these that keep my mouth shut and ears open.

I learned to do this as a teenager from my father, lessons that seemed more like nagging than anything useful like getting girls. “We are constantly hearing,� he often told me. “But listening requires much more attention to detail.�

Sometimes I wonder what would be different if I spoke out and what I could miss, but I can’t create any alternative history. Instead I like to imagine what other people pay attention to when they aren’t talking, what makes their ears tune and buzz. I ask whether I will have the chance to hear what others think as special.

Maybe I’ll never get to have my say in a subject or bring order to chaos, but I’ll always be listening to those who do. Don’t fear the sile—did you hear that?