If you spend any time around Berkeley, you can’t help noticing how noisy the place is. There’s a constant cacophony of sound. Earlier in the week, I saw a white guy yelling at the top of his lungs, scattering a gaggle of young boys who were standing near him. Yesterday I heard a black man going ballistic, frightening a couple of elderly ladies. (Which just proves that Berkeley offers equal opportunity lunacy to people of all races, creeds, and colors.)
But it’s not just the certifiably insane who shriek around here at the top of their lungs. People can start hollering for no good reason.
Road rage is a big one. If someone does something to offend another, he will be treated to the F bomb and other socially inappropriate gestures. If the aggrieved one has had a particularly bad day, he may storm out of his car and go postal on the other person, acting as though the driver had just massacred his entire family (or, even worse, voted for a Republican). If a pedestrian walks too slowly in a crosswalk, a driver may explode for being delayed another 15 seconds.
Aside from road rage, there is always the possibility of a stormy, mob protest for any random reason: an unpopular jury verdict; tuition increases at the university; if the local medical marijuana dispensary raises its prices.
The BART trains rumble; Amtrak blares its horns day and night; music is played at eardrum-destroying decibel in stores and restaurants. . . the noise pollution never stops. Sometimes it gets to me so much that I feel like screaming at the top of my lungs, “SHUT UP!” (but then, of course, I would be hollering like a lunatic as well.)
Many of the citizens fight back by creating their own, virtual noise: talking on cell phones and cranking up their IPODS. It’s no wonder; why wouldn’t a populace under constant siege want to tune it all out and reside in one’s own Private Idaho?
Although this pandemonium is business as usual around here, none of it is normal. Continual, overstimulating, and, at times, menacing sounds keep a population on edge. No wonder people around here need a never ending stream of massage therapists, Reiki practitioners, aromatherapists, and acupuncturists to try, in vain, to calm the system down.
What is actually normal and healthy for human beings is some quiet time to restore feelings of well-being and safety: to allow the jaw to unclench and the neck muscles to soften. This might mean some time unwired to tech to smell the roses and admire a new baby. Only through having some peace and quiet can we engage with ourselves and other people.
But, more importantly, we can only hear God when we silence the mind. When we are constantly assaulted by noise, how can we hear the gentle whisper of God? How can we discern who God is and what He wants for our lives? And, yet, our culture tries every which way to distract us and keep us estranged from God.
Maybe there’s a reason for this constant noise, after all.