Saturday, November 9, 2013

Listening to Sadness

You learn a lot about people after they die. This is especially true after a suicide, which plunges the living into desperate rifling through the remains for any clue to the unraveling of a mind. When people share their memories, you seize upon each one in the hope that it will unearth another breadcrumb. 

So it was when I received the treasure of a compilation of messages and memories from Noah’s college friends. In most, I recognized the young man he had been a year or two before—his many passions, his readiness for adventure and argument, his goofiness and zest for life. But some spoke of a kindness I’d never seen, in which Noah reached out to put people at ease, even sought them out in moments of sadness to listen to their troubles:

I had been sitting there under a tree crying for a while without anyone talking to me when Noah walked by. Even though he had no idea who I was, he sat with me, asked me what was wrong, and talked to me for a while before persuading me to come eat lunch with him and his friend. 

I would run into him with my head about to explode, and he'd listen and be generous with his time. He listened more genuinely than most people I know. 

He had this ability to be so warm so fast and seemed not to allow you to feel strange or timid or anything when he was around.  This quality is so rare and it’s unreal that he's not here to be that person for so many of us anymore. 

His impulse to give, to listen and to be there, unequivocally--this is a quality that never disappeared, even when he began to struggle more and more visibly.

As I read these accounts, I remembered that Noah met his girlfriend when he noticed her standing alone looking glum at a party. He was drawn to sadness or loneliness in others, maybe because he recognized parts of himself that he rarely expressed. Not knowing how to voice his own depression, he wanted to see how others navigated it. Or he wanted to offer them the listening and comfort that his own tender soul craved. Or he just couldn’t stand to see others in pain. I think all this but will never know, will never have the chance to mull it over with him as we did so many things in our years-long conversation. What I do know is that the people around him felt heard, understood, befriended. And that my son was a mensch for reaching out to them. 

Pride is not easily come by after the destruction and hurt of a child’s suicide. But I am proud that Noah, as he was becoming the man he could have been, had the heart to listen to and lighten the sadness of others. Even if he ultimately couldn’t let in others to help himself.

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