Silence is not the absence of sound, it’s the absence of noise – Gordon Hempton 

I don’t know about you, but when I was a youngster, I always had some kind of music playing, either on the record player or the radio, or, later, on my walkman. It’s just what we did. Listen to music.

Whether we were driving down the highway or just hanging out with friends, the music was always on. Half our attention on the song that was playing; half on what we were going to listen to next. It was our constant companion. The third wheel, making the ride easy, smooth.

Then in my twenties, the record player was packed away in the attic and music stations gave way to talk radio. On the way to work and on the way back, I’d listen to the news, to OJ Simpson making his way slowly down the 405 to Mexico, to that horrifying day in September when the sky went dark.

The airwaves were buzzing. And so was my brain.

Everywhere I turned, my senses were constantly being assaulted–doom and disaster on the telly, kids yelling and crying, pundits and commentators, each trying to outdo the other for my attention.

I couldn’t get away from the noise.

Not the demands. Not the influx of information. Not even the music.

So I turned it off. Literally.

I stopped watching the news. Drove to work in silence. There and back. There and back. My once torturous commute became an oasis, an escape from the noise.

I also started waking with the sunrise just to sneak in that extra hour before the house roared to life.

It was bliss.

But I never did go back to listening to music. Not like I used to. Not like when I was eighteen. When music was prayer.


Then last month, by some stroke of scheduling luck, I went to three different concerts, music I had not listened to in ages. And it made me sad.

Sad that I had so completely excised it from life. The music. The sounds.

You see, I had conflated it all–all the inputs, all the stimuli, overwhelming me into one, never-ending scream–I want a piece of YOU!!!

Your attention.

Your fear.

Your guilt.

Your sacrifice.

You idle wastefulness.

Your turning away from yourself.

“I want it ALL!”

So I stopped listening. To the pulling. To the recriminations. To the voices in my head.

But in so doing, I took out the music along with all the noise. Removed the breast for the cancer. And was left with empty.

No heart.

No feet.

No cleaving to the melody.

No surrender.

It’s as if the lights went out.

And I would never again sit on a rooftop and listen to a freshly pressed record.

Never wake to the sound of Ella and the smell of curry on the stove.

Never sing with the Queen Bee or dance on a table top.

Never tear down a highway, cool wind in my hair.

And now Paul Simon says that this will be the end.

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Categories: Reflections


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