Beyond the Noise

Kathryn - Houston, Texas
Entered on April 4, 2011
Age Group: Under 18
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“I’m never speaking to her again!”

Sympathetically, I put my arm around Bailey’s trembling shoulders. We’re at a normal, junior high movie party, but Bailey has been venting to me about how Anne stole her crush. We had been watching the movie, but Anne’s presence plus the action-packed film meant ultimate distraction for Bailey—we’ve been in the bathroom twenty minutes since. After a few more minutes of lamentation, Bailey regains composure, sighing heavily.

“You know, if I wasn’t best friends with Anne, I’d be best friends with you. She can’t shut up long enough to listen to me. She thinks anyone else who talks is just spurting noise.”

It’s not the first time other girls have given me an emotional catharsis, but it’s the first time anyone has acknowledged that I listen. Finding it easier than contributing “noise” of my own, I tolerate incessant complaints, anecdotes, and diatribes in order to understand others, allowing others to trust me. Though I know I’ll never be more than an open ear to them, I think I’m okay with that.

… … … … …

Matt smiles, waves, cracks a joke—my ears perk up. He punches his buddies good-bye as he walks away; I follow him through the stream of students in the hall, only catching him at his locker.

“What happened?”

Mike’s hand is frozen on the combination lock, his eyes closed, his breathing quick and shallow. I pull him to the library where we sit at a table. Voice struggling to remain level, Mike tells me that on top of several recent struggles in his life, his favorite aunt is on her death-bed. A tear falls from Mike’s cheek, and I don’t know what to say. He begins speaking again…

Eventually Mike turns to me. “My life was out of control all day today, but I thought I was covering it well until an hour ago. How did you know something was wrong?” I shrug; he smiles. “Thanks for caring.”

As Mike leaves the library, my mind wanders; when did I tell him I cared? I remember listening to the dramatic soliloquies of my junior high friends, when listening was merely tolerating the sound of talking. Now, I think listening is more than hearing noise altogether.

Listening, in its true form, isn’t listening to the words that a person says; it’s listening to the things that a person doesn’t say. It’s the tone of someone’s voice, the restlessness in someone’s eyes, the quiver of someone’s lips, all wanting to be recognized and accepted. Listening is the experience of an argument, a plea, a demand, taking shape and begging to simply be understood, to be calmed, in spite of the noise.

I believe in experiencing that argument. I believe in calming the noise.

I believe in listening.