Texas Man Sets up "Listening Tent" at Busy Intersection for Anybody Who Wants to Talk
Most days, you can find Will Norman at the intersection of Northwest Parkway and Speer Street in the small town of Azle, Texas.
Norman set up a "listening tent" in the parking lot of the local liquor store in mid-May after what he describes as "the hardest year of his life."
It's a simple operation. Norman sits beneath a small tent bearing a yellow banner that says "Need to Talk? I'll Listen" and waits—sometimes up to nine hours a day—for someone to take him up on his offer. He told WFAA that he chose that particular spot because it's one of the busiest intersections in town.
For Norman, a cancer survivor, 2020 was full of personal struggles that had nothing to do with the pandemic. During the most painful time of his life, he found himself in desperate need of someone to talk to.
"I just went through some hard stuff, a traumatic experience and felt like there was no one there," he told KDFW. "And I thought maybe other people need to talk, and they did. And so, I just listen, and they just keep coming and keep coming."
Norman isn't a therapist, but he offers free, confidential chats with no judgement. He said he's surprised by how many people he's met who just needed someone to talk to—nearly all of them strangers.
"It's everything from people who have had death in their family, cancer, just family issues. They have no one to talk to or it's something they can't talk to their friends or family about and they just need a stranger to talk to," he told the local news station. "And then there's a few that just want to talk about they want to complain about the weather or politics or traffic. Anything they need, I'm there. They just need to vent."
Norman said that many he listens to can't afford to see a professional therapist.
"[Therapists] will tell you a lot of times, 'Well, we have a sliding scale.' But in most problems you have, finances is such a huge thing. So, any amount of money you're putting out is just hurting you even more," he said.
Speaking with WFAA, Norman recalled a man who was on his way to kill himself when spotted the listening tent. He said he encouraged the man to get help, and he did. When the man got out of the hospital a week later, the first thing he did was thank Norman.
"And he turned around and started walking off and he just stopped and turned around and said, 'I love you.' And I said, 'I love you too," Norman told the station, adding that it was the confirmation he needed.
"Last year was the worst of times for me, but at the same time it was the best of times because it led to what I'm doing now," he told WFAA. "It's given me a purpose to do. A purpose in life."