The Sound of Silence: My Call To Action About An Endangered Resource

When I was about 10 years old, I damaged my larynx. The doctor informed me that in order for my voice box to heal, I couldn’t speak for 5 days….an eternity for someone who had only been alive for such a short time, and who was just full of questions, comments and verbal reflections. My father, who was always a huge communicator via the written word, wrote me a one-page letter titled ‘The Virtues of Silence’ upon my diagnosis. As you might imagine, I was not amused.

Fast-forward four decades, and I now have a much different outlook on the concept of silence. I consider it a human right, and I crave it daily. This seemingly unattainable expectation is valued as highly as air and water, yet has become far scarcer than each. Think about how rare it is to discover an environment where there is no man-made noise. When I finally find it, I am at ultimate peace. But sadly, such is a diminishing luxury.

The Big City Picture

Anyone who lives in NYC will attest to the constant roar of man-made noise, and its ever-increasing abundance. The most egregious offender, and the one that altered the silence paradigm forever, is the backing-up warning signal installed in commercial vehicles. I fully understand that this obnoxious, consciousness-grabbing racket is designed to save lives, but when it’s at the sonic expense of everyone within 3 blocks eyeshot, and the noise perpetually exists, its value seems sharply diminished. Couldn’t there have been a different solution?

Since we’re discussing the big city, consider some of the other silence-busting circumstances that appear to be on the rise. It seems at this point that every city block has a jackhammery project of some sort underway….from building construction and destruction to water main repair to underground power and cable line replacement. Many people don’t even notice these auditory intrusions, which is odd to me as they are constantly taunting my nerves when I’m about town. I sometimes wonder, “will the city ever get finished being built?” For those of you who don’t dwell on such existential brain fare, consider my predicament.

No Escape

Turns out, suburban dwellers are not spared the sonic assault. Modern gasoline-powered maintenance tools like lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and chain saws seem to be perpetually part of the soundscape in the countryside. It perplexes me why someone would choose an otherwise peaceful Sunday morning to break down a tree into logs. Punctuating this cacophony are countless un-muffled motorcycles and modified cars, thumping car stereos, and malfunctioning car alarms, all of which appear to be the new permanent sonic reality. The idea that someone chooses to drive a car which was intentionally tweaked to sound like a giant tin can speaks volumes about this culture’s loss of natural sound-related sanctity. That there are no laws preventing it is downright scary.

Let Me Level With You

My intentions here are not to post another rant by a middle-aged woman about noise pollution. My aims are much grander. I’m making a call to action for each of us to stop, listen and savor the sweet sound of silence on the uncommon occasions we find ourselves treated to it. For me, the rich reward for a workday that begins in the suburb at 6:30AM is a background symphony of bird calls, the occasional belch of a bullfrog, and the hypnotic song of breeze through leaves. There is nothing more meditative, and it’s well-worth the early morning effort.

So, whether you’re sensitive to modern noises or not, treat yourself to an experiment the next time you have a chance. Take pause, and notice the “sound of silence” in the forefront of your ears. Take a short hike into a park or preserve, and witness the sound of a trickling brook. Or, simply sit on your front step early in the morning, before anyone else has awoken, let alone started their cars. Rejoice in the music of nature, meditate on the calming effect the lack of industrial sound brings, and think twice before running your weed whacker or log splitter early on a weekend morning. Understand for once what lies beneath the invasive onslaught of new-world noise. With a morsel of silence now and then, the world just might become more peaceful, as may you.

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