In our first one on one of spring semester, my AD turned to me and said, “Tyler, you’re always telling me about other people. I want to get to know YOU.”
I was shocked. I had thought I had been telling him about me–I had summarized my real feelings and experiences, though I presented these with a polish and a positive, forward-thinking spin. I was surprised that my AD had noticed that I was holding back, because I hadn’t yet realized that I was holding back. It wasn’t until the minutes after he said I hadn’t let him get to know me that I realized that he was right. I had gotten so used to the ‘fake it ’till you make it’ model of existence that I learned to ignore an entire section of myself, to let my own pain fall upon deaf ears, to march on unsympathetically with a shrug of ‘what can you do?’ when my emotions did not match up with my idea of who I wanted to be. I was surprised that anyone, let alone this busy adult, wanted to hear me stumble through inarticulate sadness, to hear me talk about the thoughts I had self-labeled, “useless and unproductive.”
We all have a lot of those thoughts.
And the thing is, it’s not uncommon to hide our pain from each other, even (especially?) from the people we love. In fact, it is the rule. But I know I would like to tell people the truth. I think most people would, but we just don’t know how to begin.
A lot of people have certainly noticed over the years that I avoid expressing my real thoughts and emotions. The people who, like my AD, know how to call me out on it will always be extremely valuable presences. Many of the people who have most changed my life have done so with just such quick, cutting observations and inquiries. By their examples, these friends have taught me that listening is not only about staying quiet and absorbing the words someone else is saying. Listening can be an act of bravery. It is not only patient silence, it is sometimes the finely cut question. It is not only acceptance, but loving curiosity. It is not only accepting eyes to witness each other, but our voices, calling each other to step just a little bit more into the light.
For now, I’m sitting with the thought that sometimes, the mere act of asking is enough to change someone’s life.