Unless you’re a rich cat living high up in the Bay Area hills, most people around these parts hear the BART trains day and night. The sound may be background noise if you’re far from the tracks. If you’re close by, the noise can stop conversation and interrupt sleep. The sound of BART is just one of the many indignities that Bay Area residents face in their extraordinarily overpriced dwellings.
Yet, the other night, as I was quietly thinking and meditating before bed, I noticed that the air was thick with silence, and yet the reason escaped me. I am surrounded by very noisy neighbors. Had the whole crew of them gone away on a 4th of July sojourn? And then the realization hit me: the BART trains are on strike.
It was a strange feeling to realize this. .. an unsettling mixture of relief (finally, some blessed quiet!) and also fear, foreboding, a strange, almost apocalyptic, feeling. It was like the silence bellowed, “This is what it will be like at the end of the world.”
That type of penetrating silence can make a person wonder: How will this world end and when? No human being has any idea when, though some have tried (unsuccessfully) to predict it. I have no inside knowledge. However, things are so bad in this country, so insane and out of control, that one has to wonder when that final tipping point will be crossed.
I wonder what the sound will be like when this world system ends: will it be noisy, as in mass hysteria and chaos; or it will be like the eery and unsettling silence that I experienced the other night? So many people feel unsettled these days. I hear it from people all the time — something just doesn’t feel right, though they don’t know what it is; and then there are others with a pasted smile on their faces or a blank look, who would never admit it, but somewhere inside, in a place they only travel in their dreams, they know it too.
And, perhaps I’ve heard too many conspiracy theories, but I have to wonder if the whole thing is rigged, BART and everything else; if this subway strike, rather than being about money and pensions and other nickle-and-dime issues, is really about social control. Are we in the Bay Area, home to so many social experiments, being manipulated, like puppets on a string, to see just how much pummeling we can take? Are the endless traffic jams and the daily indignities of life in a major metropolis a daily way to remind us how insignificant we are and how significant they are?
And I think of the national push for public transportation; how people are cajoled to get out of their cars and hop on trains and buses. And yet ironically, tragically, those same obedient people who try to save the environment by enduring BART and our bus systems (with their unpredictable eruptions of the deranged; or the more routine leering and touching by the indecent) are being punished by not being able to get where they need to go.
And I envy people in other parts of the country, those saner locales, where people don’t depend on public transit — or insane highways — to get to where they need to go. Amazing to think of people simply getting into their cars, driving on clean, pothole-less roads and — voila! — in less than a 1/2 hour, they are at work, without getting into verbal or sometimes physical altercations with their fellow drivers.
Yet, here, it’s a full-time job to actually get to work, a form of twice-daily Mortal Combat, with Bay Area warriors battling traffic and other angry drivers, all suspended together in space in a kind of Kafkaesque nightmare. It’s one of the many assaults on the spirit of dwelling in the Bay Area (A tax on paper bags? Really?) which most people cover over with a smiley, “But we’re so lucky to live here!”
This mindset has been called by many names before (“Groupthink,” “mass delusion,” “Stockholm Syndrome”), where people come to accept, even love, their oppressors. Perhaps it’s simply denial. Human beings are simple creatures; we don’t like to see what we don’t like to see.
Meanwhile, what I sense deep down in my bones is this: something doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right, both in the SF Bay Area and all over this country. I’m not saying that it’s Apocalypse Now. I have no special knowledge or insight about such things. All I know is that a creepy silence has descended on this particular area, but not a comforting one as some silences may be. In fact, this one feels downright deadly.
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
“Fools”, said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you.”
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
In the wells of silence
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sounds of silence
(From the song, Sounds of Silence)
I hope this piece finds you well.
You may be wondering about my own sound of silence. I’m okay: stressed, but blessed. I’ve felt moved to write many times but. . .ultimately, what is there to say? Those who have ears will hear; those with eyes that can see, will see.
Unfortunately, I’m unable to post comments at this time.
Best to you and yours.