The human need to be heard

I was doing my laundry the other night, at around 2:00 a.m. when the place is empty and I can use as many dryers as I like to get done quickly. When I walked in a guy was engaged in animated conversation with the long time night porter at the laundromat, a very friendly guy from Mexico who speaks limited English. After getting my laundry in the washing machine I went to sit outside and enjoy the central air conditioning that abused Mother Nature has graciously provided in recent nights.

The talkative guy came out to smoke a cigarette. I made a comment about the smoking section and how in the old days you could smoke a cigarette wherever you wanted to. He turned to me full of an expectation that was palpable. He said “can I talk to you, man? I really need to talk to somebody,and I nodded, told him it was fine.

He was in turmoil, his wife was about to leave him, because after four years clean and sober, he’d fallen off the wagon, having a few drinks on the third anniversary of his father’s death. He always used to drink with the old man on his birthday.

He told me about his life, and it turned out his wife was also in recovery as he put it. I said maybe that’s why she’s so freaked out about your falling off the wagon, she sees it as a threat to her sobriety, that the same thing could easily happen to her. He was amazed by this simple idea, it seemed the thought had never occurred to him.

His sponsor had told him recently that he needed to start reaching out to people, for their opinions, for their insights, for help. I told him his sponsor sounded like a smart person, that it’s good to get perspectives from people who don’t know you because they have nothing to gain, no axe to grind. I had nothing to gain and no axe grind, and even though he never let me actually finish a thought, he was clearly very relieved that somebody was listening to him carefully and taking the trouble to respond with some thought.

When our clothes were dry and we packed everything up to leave, he thanked me and we exchanged a strong handshake. I told him he was on the right path looking for insight, understanding, that it was a good sign that he was reaching out. I wished him luck and I told him I was confident that he’d be okay, because most people don’t even bother looking for insight in their lives and he had a big leg up on everybody like that.

The experience reminded me again of how important it is to be heard. One of the most effective ways to stomp the living heart out of a person is to subject them to complete silence. They can speak, they can lay their heart bare, but by not saying anything in return you can make it very clear to them that they’re fucking dead to you.

Life or death. When Death finally comes we have nothing to say to it except to go. During our life we can choose the way of life or the way of fucking death. Me, I’ll take life every time.

2 comments on “The human need to be heard

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