I grew up in a small city in Western New York. It is a quaint, unassuming place once home to incredible innovative companies such as Kodak. Until the 1980’s, it was a booming metropolis and it seemed for a time that it would flourish forever. Then the 1982 stock market crash caused many companies to shutter. Over time, the city grew quiet. Folks moved out to the suburbs for the white picket fence middle class dream.
Once I graduated from college, I moved to San Francisco. This new place also introduced a new kind of experience: sensory assault. I had lived in a big city before (Berlin), but never had I endured such a constant onslaught of yelling, screeching, dinging, barking, and so on. The smells were equally as jarring. Urine, it seemed, lined the streets of the city. You could smell the most delicious tacos one minute, then encounter the most offending body odor from an unfortunate fellow left to lie in the streets. At night, you could hear the pounding music from a club three blocks away. As you pass by a bar, you are momentarily deafened by the din emanating from behind its doors. Lights of all colors flash through the opening doors, nearly blinding me as I walk by.
My new city was altogether too much to handle most days. I found myself agitated very easily as I walked to and from the BART station closest to my apartment. Sirens, the loud conversations of tourists, and the roaring of planes overhead filled my ears. Any pause in the din was quickly filled by harsh winds blowing against my ears, as if the silence were too unbearable.
Upon a recent trip to my old college campus, I was struck by its quietness; the only sounds I could hear were the occasional revving of an engine or the laughter of a joyful patron of our beloved bagel shop. Folks moved quickly and with purpose, but did so without assaulting my senses. It was refreshingly peaceful.
Every day, I wake up in a place that seems to flaunt its assault as a part of its “character” and “charm”, and it’s starting to rub me the wrong way. I yearn for a quieter home, calmer surroundings. I wonder if I will ever find silence again.