He stood on the ledge. The open window of his boarding room dorm taunted him. A plastic knife was in his hand. He heard nothing; nothing but noise.
Benjamin Kheng is an actor and musician with synesthesia, a condition that makes him highly sensitized to external stimuli, namely, sounds. He hears in color. Before being diagnosed, he thought that his anxiety due to overstimulation, and his sensitivity to the world around him was his fault. He begins his TEDxYouth Talk by recounting the day he stood on that ledge, contemplating taking his own life. And what realization stayed his hand, and propelled him into a successful career in the arts.
Benjamin realized that “We are the main characters… but we’re also the script writers… we decide how the main character lives. We decide how he looks, how he feels, what his traits are. Do I let people hang labels on me, or do I craft my own labels? I am writing the script. I am living the story. I’m not living out someone else’s script. They can say anything that they want, but it doesn’t stick, because I have the pen. That’s what stopped me from hurting myself that day in the boarding room window.”
This mindfulness is what led Benjamin to switch from the path he had been lead down all his life to choosing one in the arts. As many online students do, he realized that he had to take control over his life, and choose the path that would best serve him, and allow him to share his purpose with the world.
Since that fateful day on the ledge, Benjamin has learned to appreciate and harness the anxiety, the “noise” of his everyday world. He now uses the magic of his condition to help remind him that he holds the pen that writes his life story.
“A G minor 7 chord is never orange; it’s always gray. The only time it’s NOT gray, the only time I can’t see the color is because it’s in the wrong place. And that means it’s just noise. I realized something that day… that in life, there will always be noise…” Benjamin goes on to talk about how important having the noise in our lives-- the bullies, analysts, naysayers who talk and try to change the script in our heads. Why? Because “We make music from the noise.”
“When ‘the noise’ first hits me, it feels like a bullet, the anxiety… but before it hits by heart, I grab hold of it and I take a look. It’s just another chord, it’s just another note as beautiful as ever, but in the wrong place. So what do I do? I take it out from that hurtful place and I slip it into the part of the song where it fits perfectly. And then I can hear the colors. And then everything makes sense.”
Most online high school students have their own version of this story: the one where they recognized the noise polluting their life and chose a different path. What would you write for yourself, if you held the pen? Who would be in your script? What would you look like? Where would you go? Who would you help?
“Here is your life; here is where you start. Walk with your mind; run with your heart.”