The Most Beautiful Thing Anyone Had Ever Heard
The city is a giant fishbowl of sound.
I can hear, from my third floor apartment window...
– a car drive by.
– another honk in the distance.
– a woman yelling at her children.
– my refrigerator freezer fan grinding because it's so fucking hot.
– a plane, I think.
– a neighbor watching something loud on his or her television.
I used to work at Navy Pier. Between the canned music (the Greatest Soft Rock Hits of 1998) and the millions of tourists and the boats and the gulls and the children — Jesus Christ, the children — it was like being under a stream of unceasing sulphuric acid while naked in a hot room all day long. Inside is quieter, but I worked at a radio station. Phones ringing, people typing on their PCs, the coffee maker gurgling, conversations.
This summer, I'm working in Millennium Park. Tens of thousands of people, music, sirens, ushers on the radio in my left ear.
In the city, you simply cannot escape the noise no matter where you go.
"I'm sorry to bother you…"
"The Lord Jesus Christ…"
"Next stop is Roosevelt. Doors open on the left at Roosevelt…"
Muzak designed to make you buy shit.
That wheel on that fucking cart.
A wall of sound confronts your every step like that invisible wind the mime struggles against.
But then you drive 12 hours to your parents' home out in the Middle of Nowhere, Kansas. You drive a Prius and sometimes you turn the radio off and can only hear the tires on the highway. You arrive and the atmosphere is different. The air is cleaner. The wind seems freer. You lie down and the absence of cars honking and a couple fighting on the street unnerves you. You sleep fitfully. And then…
And then you wake up before the sun. You get a mug (not a cup — fuck a cup!) of hot coffee and a pipe and sit out on the back porch. The only sounds you can hear are the occasional birdsong and sound of your pipe when you take a pull.
It is this silence that makes my life in the city seem like someone else's. As if this is reality and that is a fiction I've created. It is this silence, this one hour of complete quiet — watching the sun slowly come up over the horizon — that suddenly and without fanfare brings me clarity of purpose and focus unlike anything I can steal from time amidst the slight chaos of the city.
I remember reading The Loudest Noise in the World when I was a kid. It was about the son of the king of a very powerful country. For his birthday, he decided that what he wanted more than anything was to hear the Loudest Sound in the World.
So the king, loathe to disappoint his offspring, commissioned every diplomat, every emissary, every other king and queen and president and world leader to require that at noon on his son's birthday, every living human being would make as much noise as each could possibly make. Every gun would be shot, every cannon would explode, bombs, pots and pans banged, people shouting, all at exactly noon on the boy's birthday.
Because this was a fictional tale, the king also employed the animal kingdom — all of whom could not only understand the directive but also somehow tell time. The world, ordinarily at odds with each other, was miraculously unified in this task to create the Loudest Sound in the World.
On his birthday, the boy was incredibly jacked up. He was to sit at the top of the highest tower of the castle and close his eyes. And the clocked ticked slowly to the appointed time …5 …4 …3 …2 …1.
And the boy was hit square in the eyes with the overwhelming and beautiful sound of… silence.
As it turned out, every person, every animal, everything wanted to hear the Loudest Sound in the World and at the appointed time, every living creature on the planet held its breath and listened.
And it was the most beautiful thing anyone had ever heard.