December 29 , 2008

I went for a drive Sunday. I hadn't been in the car since Christmas Eve when the roommate and I went out for our annual Christmas Eve dinner. We had seafood. It was lovely. But I'd turned the radio off while we drove so we could talk and I forgot to turn it back on. 

I drove for several blocks Sunday without realizing the radio was off, lost in my thoughts, traveling far and wide beyond the road and back again. My windows were closed because of the cold, but I could still hear the outside world, albeit as if trapped inside a bubble. Which in a way, I suppose I was. The city is never quiet, but I enjoyed the relative quiet inside my car. 

When I reached towards the radio compulsively, I stopped, made myself stay with my silence and contemplation. I wondered, when did we as a society become so inured against silence and contemplation? We've always got something going, jingling in our ears, jangling at our fingertips, flaring before our retinas: bright entertainments that never cease until we close our eyes at night and force our minds to shut down. When did we become afraid of our own company? 

I put my hand back on the wheel and I listened. I heard the car's engine, the rattling of a crate in the trunk, the engines of other cars near me and their noisy radios, the voices of pedestrians crossing the street, the whoosh of the wind against the windshield, the jiggle of the tires over a rough part of the road. For one heart-stopping moment, came the honking of a V of about a dozen geese as they flew low over the treetops heading towards the wetlands at Playa Vista. I cracked the window to listen to that stirring, primal sound—so wild yet here in the middle of the city—and watched the V disappear behind the buildings. I followed them, towards the wetlands. 

I'm not for a moment suggesting we all need to throw away our iPods and cells, our games and our internets and Kindles. I'm not really a Luddite. I don't think progress is bad. But a respite, now and then, for quiet and contemplation is a good thing. These migrations to silence and solitude help us get in touch with what's really important. If we get so bored by wandering the hallways of our own minds without outside stimulation to distract us away from opening doors and exploring, I wonder just who we are? I wonder if we can ever know who we are inside when all we have is the outside penetrating us at every waking moment? 

I don't have an answer. I'm Distraction Girl as much as anyone else. But I really enjoyed that drive in my bubble of quiet, just me and my mind, and what my eyes saw, what my ears heard of the natural world. The sunset the geese flew into was gorgeous fuchsia, pale pink, pale orange, grey, blue-black, black. The wind in the tall grasses of the wetlands shushed me as I rode along, whispering: quiet, listen, listen to what's inside.

Copyright © 2010 P.J. Thompson