by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
October 5, 2006
YOU MEAN SILENCE ISN'T GOLDEN ANYMORE?
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Remember stillness? Peace? Quiet? Being in the moment?
Once they were highly esteemed values. Now it seems that America has not only thumbed its nose at the philosophy of "Be Here Now," it has given it the finger, too.
I used to love travel for the sense of aloneness it provided. Suspended between the life I left behind and the life I was traveling towards, for a short time I was unreachable, untouchable, and free to read, reflect, and rummage around in the baggage of my mind.
Now the noise of travel prohibits contemplation. It has become deafening. And I don't mean engines, cash registers, luggage being pulled on wheels, hissing coffee machines and the hubbub of private conversation.
I recently had a two hour stop-over in the Orlando airport on my way to Hartford. Sitting with a book, waiting for the plane, I was surrounded by people talking into their cell phones. Maybe 15 or 20 of them in one small area.
I wasn't deliberately eavesdropping, but it was impossible not to overhear what should have been private conversations. Here are some random snippets:
"I have a gut feeling you guys are dropping the ball..."
"My calendar is booked up. Any chance we could meet on the weekend?
"Let me get back to you. I'm waiting to get on a plane right now."
"But it had a bar code."
"The lowest rate with the highest option rate, obviously overprojected..."
"Wow! Ooooh! She can pay for her brand new freaking car and room now..."
"Honey, I love you so much. I miss you too."
A man in Docker's shorts and moccasins actually set up his office in front of me. While he talked loudly into the headset phone that curled around his ear, he was typing on his laptop with one hand and working a calculator with the other. Two pads of paper and some pencils lay on an end table next to him. He had everything there but his secretary.
"Now, as to January meetings..." he was saying into the air.
Even when people weren't talking into their cell phones, they were doing their damnedest not to be there now. Many were listening to music on their iPods. Others were sitting on the floor, plugged into laptops.
Over the tapping and clicking and talking were the boarding announcements, of course. "Good morning, folks. This is 645 going to Providence..."
Flat-screen televisions hanging from the ceiling added to the noise. Everywhere I looked, Natalie Cole was being interviewed on CNN. And as background to the background (to the background?), there was a sound system in the ceiling playing a steady stream of classical violin concertos.
And adding a little extra bass, two workmen on ladders started banging on the window frames with big rubber hammers.
A woman standing next to me yelled into her cell phone, "Can you hear me? I think it's my phone. It's weird. It's very strange. I just want to let you know we're flying out on time. And we have sandals on."
Then President George W. Bush came on CNN, talking about the war on terror. We're fighting for "moderation" against the "extremists," he said. Now there's a battle cry. "Charge, boys! We're going to kill them all to defend our precious moderation.!"
Just as he spoke, the violinist poured his heart into the Hungarian Rhapsody.
As my headache mounted, I couldn't help but ask myself a few questions. Why is the background noise to our lives now so loud? Why do people seem to need so many distractions? Why do they feel they must be connected to someplace other than the place they're in?
What happened to silence being golden? Can't Americans deal with peace and quiet? Does it disturb their souls?
Does silence lead to the kind of self-reflection that, in this age of mindless violence and egregious torture, is too painful to contemplate?
Has the unexamined life now become the one worth living?
Should we change "Be here now" to "Be nowhere now"?
If they're not here now, where are they?
And are they ever really anywhere at all?
A collection of Joyce Marcel's columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through joycemarcel.com. And write her at email@example.com.