enjoy_the_silence
(Image courtesy of CrossPointMinistry.com)

Today I was noticing the quiet.

I have unusually acute hearing. When I was last officially tested in my teens, my dad was still in the Navy and they used one of those soundproof booths where you face the wall, put headphones on you, and have you raise and lower a finger when you hear and stop hearing a sound. My hearing was charted as above average in most ranges and, literally, off the charts in some frequencies. That is, I was hearing sounds before you were supposed to be able to at certain frequencies. And at other frequencies I could hear sounds humans normally couldn’t. Not a dog levels, of course not, but an unusually broad range, and unusually acute through that range.

Mostly, this is an annoyance. It makes it hard to hard to sleep. It makes concentrating difficult, especially during tests. I’ve (unfortunately) passed it on to my daughter, who had to be tested for her dyslexia in a room lit by natural light because the humming of the fluorescents distracted her. I tend to speak so softly sometimes people say I “mumble.” Warning sounds and signals cause my actual physical pain. And so on.

Now sure, this has changed over the years. For one, loud music has dulled my hearing somewhat over time. And of course I’ve learned to live with it. Sami and the kids encouraged me to speak up. You can’t mumble in meetings if you want to be heard. You learn how to deal with ambient noise if you want to sleep. The invention of the Walkman and later things like the iPod was a godsend. But a world filled with a monstrous amount of noise pollution is kind of tough on those of us—for I’m sure I’m hardly alone in this—who have sensitive hearing.

And now, everyone’s quarantined-in-place.

Have you noticed the quiet? The streets are almost empty. Planes are hardly flying. Fewer buses, fewer cars, fewer trucks. Fewer people driving. No teens driving around in big trucks with spinning rims, windows down, blasting out their favorite music turned up to 11. (“Why do they do that, Dad?” Joseph asked me once. “Some of them are just being jerks, honey,” I said. “But some of them just love their music and are wanted to share their joy.”) It’s a lot quieter. Everywhere.

I didn’t really notice that until I went out today to pick up some meds and continue my (still fruitless) effort to buy more eggs. Sure, I had been turning the sound down on my headphones and small speaker that I listen to music on, but I hadn’t been thinking about it consciously. It was when I got into my car for the first time today and my iPhone automatically connected and the next song on my playlist queued up and I actually winced that it made me think.

We all know what it’s like to have been listening to music on the freeway and then the next time we get in the car to have to turn it down. But this wasn’t one of those “turn it down a couple of notches” type deals; I had to cut it in half. I had to turn it from 18 to 9. And even 18 is low for my car. I know these numbers mean nothing, of course, but I usually listen to music with the volume set to 20, sometimes up to 24 depending on road noise, whether it’s raining, or whatever. This would be wimpy by a head-banging metalhead with leather ears, who would crank it to 35 or more on my system. But even so, driving down the freeway on an ordinary day, I would find anything below 16 essentially inaudible.

Today I couldn’t bear to set it above 10. 12 actually hurt my ears.

It’s the quiet, you see. I’ve gotten used to the quiet. To quiet streets, quiet skies, a quiet house. Quiet music on my headphones, quieter shows on my speakers, a lower volume of life. Living in a quieter world. Even the dogs in the neighborhood seem quieter, seem to be barking less. It’s as if my—as if our—collective ears have unclenched from the ambient noise and are able to hear soft voices easier than shouts again.

In amidst the loneliness and fear and incompetence and panic-buying and worry, some amazing things are going on around us. Today, I noticed the quiet. Maybe you noticed it, too. And if you didn’t, maybe now you can, and it will give you a little boost during this tough time.