One of my favourite sounds is the sound of a car fading off into the distance as the world descends into total silence.
There’s something magically poetic about silence, but when it sneaks up on you, you don’t even notice. Quiet moments are few and far between in today’s world of busyness, and yet we often take those moments for granted. Too often, silence comes between Youtube videos at 1 AM when all your housemates are asleep, or when waiting for the bus on a cold winter morning, or every so often in a crowded exam room. In other words, silence comes when we desperately want it to end: we’re waiting for the next video to load, we desperately want that bus to show up (or at least someone else to show up at the stop to show us we didn’t get the times wrong), and we need our minds to not go blank during that exam. Silence is too often the unwanted guest, the segue, a source of frustration and not of peace.
As a self-aware introvert, I’ve recognized the importance of solitude in my life, and have often tried to take time to be in silence. When I worked at camp, I tried occasionally during my breaks to go for a walk down many of the camp trails, far away from people, bustle, and noise. There, silence was broken by my footsteps on fallen twigs, or by birds calling to each other.
However, most of life is not camp. It’s much harder to fit a quiet walk into the life of a university student, living in a townhouse complex and in a six-person house.
I think that’s why I love the fading sound of a car.
Walking along city streets, the sound of cars is nearly non-stop. You forget it’s there. But when there is a lull in the continuum, and the noise of the final car fades into the background, there is a sense of emptiness. A realization that there is nothing sharing this moment with you. A sense that even along a busy street, peace and calm can still exist. No matter how hard we try as humans, we can’t completely eliminate the quiet moments from our lives.
Just as darkness is always there, just waiting for the moment all the lights go out, silence cannot be eliminated, just drowned out. It’s always there, threatening to leave you alone with yourself when you’re not ready for it.
And as that last car disappears outside your radius of hearing, your ears remind you that you are alone. Poetically magic.
Today, as often happens when riding crowded buses, someone stopped right at the doors in the middle of the bus. The bus driver had to ask people to move all the way to the back, because as of that moment, there were about 12 people who couldn’t get on the bus due to the person stopped in the aisle. This prompted me to think: why do people stop halfway on the bus? In the past, I’ve always had theories about it. People think of the back of the bus as more dangerous. People don’t want to climb up those extra couple stairs. Or my most probable theory, that people want to be close to the door for when they reach their stop.
But today I thought further. Is that really why? Do people get on the bus and consciously decide that if there’s no more seats, they will not pass the door? I doubt it. I think it’s cultural. Probably at some point, early on in the tradition of riding crowded Westernized buses, people got on and didn’t want to miss their stop, so stayed near the door. But today, it’s mostly ingrained. There are people (including myself) who move all the way to the back. We’ve made the decision to do this because of the annoyance of not being able to get on a bus in the past. But people who stop at the door probably do this because they’ve always done this, and they’ve seen other people do it too, so it must make sense.
It’s this lack of thinking, this groupthink, that worries me. People do things because they’ve seen other people do them, and they probably have no defensible reasons. It’s one problem when it comes to making space on buses. But what about misogyny, or rape culture, exploitation, or simple indifference? How many things do we do from day to day because that’s how we always do them because that’s how other people do them and so it must make sense? I had a friend who once said, “Individuals are intelligent, but groups are manipulable.” It’s very true. If you want to get somebody to do something, the best thing you can do is convince a large group they all want to do it. When everybody’s doing it, you stop thinking about the consequences.
Next time I’m on a bus and a person doesn’t move back, I want to ask them why. But I probably won’t, because nobody asks strangers questions on the bus, and therefore it has to be a bad idea.