I’ve been having trouble laying down lately – not physically, it’s just that I won’t let myself. Not trouble falling asleep, either. I am tired and able to sleep just fine. I have problems allowing myself to lay down – letting myself go to bed. For some time I assumed there was some underlying issue waiting to manifest, something troubling me that was trying to break through to the surface if I just gave it time. I spoke with one of my physicians about it and she suggested that perhaps I was just wanting to spend time in the peace and quiet after everyone went to bed. I thought that couldn’t be it, because I work from home and so during the week I spend a lot of time in silence. I discussed it with my spiritual director, who asked me if anything was coming up in my meditation. Nothing. Then last night I realized what it was.
I have come to value silence profoundly. While it’s true that I get some time in silence at home during the day, for the most part I’m working – and part of that work takes me out into the noise and chaos of the street. Even more significantly, our grandchildren arrive home shortly after five o’clock and our granddaughter is inevitably throwing a fit – it’s some sort of bizarre, three-year old, demonic ritual. Our grandson also walks in the house, and before long is hungry and can’t seem to get fast service so he starts yelling, too. Outside the window, which is now open because of the nice weather, Pookie and Ray Ray are inevitably yelling something or other to LaQueefa and her girls. Erin and I don’t watch much TV, but we do watch The Biggest Loser and American Idol – and, in the Fall, of course, the NFL is mandatory. I’m also a weather channel geek in the mornings. Perhaps because we watch so little television, what we do watch seems more intrusive than it should. On top of all that, there are cars speeding down the street with radios blasting and more sirens than I have experienced anywhere else I have lived – even when I lived across from a fire station! The other night some fool decided to crank up their house stereo to high volume with the speakers set outside on their front porch at 10pm.
My problem is that it’s loud as can be around here, and I stay up to get some peace and quiet after a period of being over stimulated – which raises an interesting question. There are cultural differences around a number of social practices, including noise levels. When I visited the Middle East in the late 1990s, I was exposed for the first time to the Muslim call to prayer and found it beautiful. I’m not sure if I would find it so lovely if I happened to live right under one of the many loud speakers mounted on poles throughout Jerusalem to broadcast that call to prayer loud enough to be heard throughout the city, however. Here at home there are also differences in the volume at which people play their music (as well as the music they play), engage in conversation, call the kids in for dinner, and many other things as well. I want to say quite clearly that I support everybody’s right to be just as loud – or quiet – as they want to be. I also want to say that I support my right to choose not to live in what is for me a loud and chaotic environment, as well as everybody else’s right to choose to live in the environment they find most nurturing. I also want to be clear that I do not believe that “volume tolerance” is an ethnically determined trait.
All of this has implications for the integration of our communities. I really enjoy living in an integrated community, and I believe it has led to my growth in many important areas. I find that I now have a struggle with some people who have always lived in segregated environments because they believe they know what goes on in the city, but in truth are clueless. I find it very difficult to bite my tongue when they spout their truths, but if I chose to confront every one of the foolish things I hear from such people I wouldn’t have any time left to do much else. Is it a failure in some way to confess that I can’t take the noise much longer? Does it reflect some kind of insensitivity to other cultures?
Some would say it does reflect such an insensitivity. That perspective assumes that to be sensitive to someone’s needs or practices one has to be willing to subject oneself to them. I disagree. We all need to take care of ourselves – it’s actually a spiritual obligation. Most people would agree that to voluntarily do something that is physically harmful doesn’t make a whole lot of sense – like, say, smoking. Why would it make sense to subject oneself to spiritual and/or psychological harm would be any more sensible?
Of course, deciding to remove oneself from an environment that has become less than ideal is only half of the task. There remains the problem of finding affordable housing in this economy in an environment that is less toxic to my psyche. The foreclosure boom has moved a number of former home owners into the rental market and actually driven up prices in a bad economy. One landlord I spoke with a couple of years ago said that the irresponsible mortgage practices of banks had deprived her of what had been a stable pool of renters who had purchased homes. At that time I told her not to worry, they would be back – and that’s precisely what has happened. In light of all this, I don’t know where we will end up, or whether the move will happen this year or next – but it has to happen before too much longer because in 2013 our granddaughter will start school - and here in Milwaukee, we don’t actually have schools. That’s a story for another blog.