The Listener

by Colin Betts
Salt Lake City, Utah

The Listener

“Gayle” is about 40. She handles some situations with all the sophistication of an 18-year-old. Sometimes, though, she behaves more like a child. For example, when she sees her friend “Mary,” the child breaks through and she applauds and cheers as her friend comes into the bus.

Mary isn’t Gayle’s only friend. Others who ride the bus live in the same neighborhood. When they see her, they share greetings, exchange jovial banter and listen while she talks — for a while. Then, after a few moments, they settle into their seats and turn their attentions to their seatmates, their newspapers, or something outside their windows.

Talking with Gayle is difficult. She has never learned to consistently modulate her voice, and when she talks, everyone in the bus can clearly hear her every word. And they have heard most of the words before because each day, she talks about the same things. On good days, there may be a few new items added and some of the older ones dropped.

Constant repetition can become boring. Is it surprising that most of her friends settle into their own seats and shut Gayle out once they have made a token effort at communication? But Mary is different. As the bus pulls up to her stop, she is always engaged in an animated conversation with others. Still, when she comes on the bus, she moves directly to the seat beside Gayle. There, she smiles her warm, loving smile and settles in to listen to Gayle.

Mary doesn’t say much; mostly she listens, and this seems to be exactly what Gayle needs. How many people are willing to listen to daily reruns? Not only does Mary listen, but she actively works to keep the conversation going. Each time Gayle finishes a topic, Mary asks her a question. That’s all that is needed to start Gayle sharing more of her likes, experiences, and wants.

Sometimes Gayle tires before the ride ends, leans against the side of the bus, and takes a nap. Instead of letting this bother her, Mary watches out the window or reads a book. She’s there for Gayle, and if Gayle wants to sleep, that’s fine.

Why does Mary share her time with Gayle? Many others would gladly spend time with someone as vibrant and alive as Mary, and they would provide more stimulating and rewarding conversation. They would share rather than monopolize the conversation. But Gayle needs Mary. She needs someone who can listen emphatically and give her a hug and a kiss when they part. She needs all the Marys that she can find. So do we. We all need someone who cares enough to share their time and their love, even if the Gayles of the world tend to be loud and repetitious.

Me? I drive the bus, and have watched and listened to these two ladies for the last two months.

Originally published as HeroicStories #134 on March 28, 2000
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 2.

7 thoughts on “The Listener”

  1. Wonderful story! How terrific that Gayle has found the ears that listen along with that terrific bus driver. The stories we all could tell, if only for that pair of ears that we need to hear each one of needs. Life is exciting, or fast paced, or boring, or whatever we want it to be, but when we find that pair of ears that is ours to talk to, Oh what joy! Special blessings to all who take the time to listen, for many blessings will fall into their life always.

  2. It would be so easy to be constantly irritated by this type of voice, let alone having to listen to the same conversation everyone on the bus knows by rote. What makes me happy and smile is the bus driver who notices all the details and subtleties of the passengers. This is a bus driver who truly cares about people and has a way of appreciating what goes on with passengers who have different needs.

    How wonderful to know of “Mary”, the special someone who serves as the designated angel. This story warms my heart. Sounds like most everyone is accepting and cordial too! Thank you for sharing this story that feels like a warm burst of sunshine!

  3. You can’t listen emphatically. You could, possibly, listen empathically, even if the spell-checker on this site doesn’t like it.

  4. For all the Mary’s in the world, thank you. There are a lot of Gayle’s out there, but not enough of Mary’s who are willing to be there for them. I will try harder to be one of them.

  5. I have an autistic family member that struggles with communication. I rejoice when I see the individuals who really take the time to engage with her rather than ignore, just nod and walk away or stick around (because they have to) and plug up to a device/start the “close-by-yet-ignore” game. This story helps to remind me that sincere and unadulterated FOCUS is demonstrating ultimate respect and consideration for all who have trouble with communication skills…whatever they are. The “Gayles” certainly deserve to be acknowledged and allowed to unashamedly be comfortable with themselves as they are accepted by those they know and meet. Thank you, Mary. I don’t know you but I’m grateful that you’ve set an example that all people should follow… without even considering becoming a hero….

  6. This is a most unusual “Heroic Story.” Thank you bus-driver for your ability to observe and relate with compassion a real-life story that others would not even consider worthy of putting pen to paper. Most of us need to learn to talk less and listen more, and in so doing would learn a lot.


Leave a Comment