A Man & A Bench

By Dylan Flint

(Written some time in September 2015; In memory of Jeremy Collins)

It’s a sunny Saturday morning in Seattle and I love my life. Roughly fifteen months ago, after tossing-and-turning all night, I laid in bed with my pillow clinched over my ears attempting to drown out the voices. I knew they were in my head, but the act of shutting out the world seemed to help a bit.

The other night I had some time to kill, and so I decided to go to Cal Anderson Park to find a bench, and try to get some writing in. However, finding myself with nothing to say, I decided to scan the scenery for inspiration.

It was one of those late summer evenings where the air was crisp and cool, and everything on the horizon was lit up gold in front of a setting sun.  It was one of those nights where you could still see people playing frisbee with their shirts off, yet, just a few steps away, people could be seen bundled up in their North Faces while eating ice cream. I wanted to capture that feeling of knowing autumn was right around the corner but that no one was willing to accept it yet.

I was failing miserably at being poetic when a drunken homeless guy came around the corner of my bench, and sat down next to me, looking as if we had an appointment to discuss something very important.

At the time, I wanted to study psychology in grad school, so instead of being annoyed like, “guy can’t see I’m trying to write here…” I took it as an opportunity to hone my active listening skills.

Taken-a-back that someone had actually stopped, from their ever so busy lives, to have a conversation, this man quickly started divulging. He told me everything, from his mom’s favorite recipe for home cooked spaghetti, to this "asshole" whose number had mysteriously vanished from his cell phone, and who had now apparently ditched him, to how he is convinced his girlfriend and her son are having a secret sexual relationship that they’re hiding from him, and finally, to stories of how “the war” had changed his father, and the entire course of his childhood.

This man’s eagerness to share with me was intriguing. But what I remember vividly was, in these rare few moments, when I was actually able to stop psychoanalyzing him, he could somehow tell I was listening. His eyes popped and lit up with wonder. It was as if a long lost spark in this man had found a reason to resurface when he realized I was truly listening, and that I had heard him.

We talked for about an hour before I had to get up and leave to go a meeting at the church across the park. When he asked where I was going, I didn’t tell him. I just said I had to be somewhere.

At that meeting, a friend of mine, who is no longer with us, shared about not being able to decipher the true from the false. He made the point that the only difference between people in the “loony bin” and us, is that we’re sitting in here talking to each other while they’re sitting in there talking to themselves...

According to the laws of nature, I am not supposed to be here on sunny Saturday mornings appreciating the changing of the seasons. However, I have found amazing things can happen when I stop talking and just listen.