I arrived late to meet Mike, Heather and Oz at the corner of Roosevelt and Halsted for the Listening Project, around 12:30pm. I had said I would be there at noon. I saw Mike and Heather holding card board signs that read “Free Listening” and I thought to myself, “oh boy”, it’s going to be one of those days. I was already confronted. I thought that this would be easy and fun, but all the went through my mind was looking good and not looking like a weirdo on the streets holding up a sign that said “Free Listening”. So I had to deal with myself for a little bit there.
It was drizzling, so there were not much people out on the corner of Roosevelt and Halsted. So I suggested we go to the UIC Campus, which was just a couple of blocks away. Oz was a bit reluctant because he had a concern about security.
We went to the square on campus by Lecture Hall C. I was still confronted. And at this point I had my own cardboard sign that said “Free Listening”. So I sat down on a bench at UIC campus and it looks like classes are about to start in a few minutes. Several people passed me by with a look and a smile and kept walking.
Then Billy sat down next to me and started talking about his major in Psychology. I noticed that I wanted to keep asking him more questions when there were periods of silence between us. I kept resisting not feeling weird. And then I set all the noise in my head aside and just sat there silent, listening to Billy talk about school, where he lives, where he goes out to during the weekends, what he plans to do after college. I was connected.
I moved on to where Heather and Mike were after Billy went to class. Isaac went up to me and asked me what I was listening for and I told him that I was listening for anything that he wanted to say. He jumped right into telling me about his experience as an ESL student for a year here in Chicago and that he is at level 3 in his English studies, and that sometimes it’s hard, but he is having a great time. I felt really connected to him. And this time I didn’t say much at all. I just listened. What a magical experience that was. He left, and I felt that he had the experience of being heard. I felt really fulfilled knowing that. And there was a sense of love there, a sense that I really connected to another human being, and in doing so, I forgot about myself. It was amazing.
And then my sister Karla stopped by to say hello. Karla and I hadn’t spoken for quite some time. It was the perfect time to connect. I asked her what was going on in her life, and she proceeded to tell me about school and work and the dentist and that she drives to Bollingbrook almost every week to go see dad. I just sat there and listened to her. I felt like I really got to know my sister in a whole new level. It was like we caught up after all these years.
So then afterward I was able to just be with people and not say anything as they passed me by. I would make eye contact and smile, and I noticed that the uncomfortable feeling wasn’t there anymore. I was able to look people in the eye, and invite them with a smile. And even if people didn’t look at me as they passed, I followed them with my gaze. It was a very profound experience participating in the Listening Project. I was in touch with my humanity, and myself and the world will never be the same.