I’ve been wrestling with the quiet. I live in a 4-story building, in a 550 square foot apartment, alone. The walls are concrete, so unless my neighbor Brenda dips a little too deep into the wine and starts belting out her rendition of Sweet Caroline (as she sometimes does), there’s not much else to listen to but the hum of my laptop and the ding of the elevator from somewhere down the hall.
At first, I was so desperate for noise. The alarm goes off, BEEP, BEEP. The cats would meow. I’d throw on a playlist loud enough to fill my thoughts (but not loud enough to disturb my neighbor Brenda). I’d move to the desk that waits just a few meters from my bed and the music would keep playing and I would start working. Then I would keep working and the playlist would keep repeating. Over and over.
It didn’t take long before I started to hate all the songs that I loved. I tried to return to my favorite podcasts instead but soon I ran through all of them. Next I tried throwback playlists, shuffling all my liked songs, reconnecting with forgotten, favorite artists and the ‘made for you’ playlists which reminded me that Spotify doesn’t really know me, at least not the way I want it to.
So, I threw on the tv. Back round noise. The comfort of old shows, characters and stories that I didn’t need to pay attention to but could exist in the background like old friends. Like co-workers, I’d hoped. But it was distracting and ultimately frustrating and annoying. So, I turned it all off. Sat in silence. Listened to my laptop humming.
I can’t tell you how loud my voice sounds in this apartment. How it bounces off the walls, how empty it makes the space feel when I look at your faces on a zoom call but can only hear my own words filling my empty space. Have you noticed that? How talking on zoom makes it feel like you’re just talking to yourself?
Since we left the office, I’ve been trying to replace all my co-workers, and it turns out none of them are replaceable. (Go figure!) On top of that, I’ve realized I’ve also been trying to replicate my experience working in the office at home. I’ve been fighting for it to feel the same, for collaboration to be the same, for my work life (and home life) to remain unchanged and it just can’t.
Things began to turn around for me when I stopped trying to force my new reality to look like my old one. I just let it be. I gave myself permission to stop trying to control everything and I started to notice I wasn’t feeling so alone. I didn’t hear my own voice so loudly on zoom calls, I didn’t feel trapped by my small apartment, I didn’t feel so far away from everyone.
Have you ever gone to a concert and taken a moment to look around at all the people cheering and singing and screaming and realized that you’re all there together? You’re all feeling the same thing, hearing the same thing, swaying and dancing and rocking out together. Thousands of people feel like one. Have you ever realized how magical that is?
I know we didn’t choose this particular ‘pandemic’ of a concert, but I’ve begun to feel that there’s some magic connecting all of us during this weird time. I see it in the smiles I share with strangers on the sidewalk as we walk 6 feet around each other. I see it in the hilarious interactions at grocery stores as three people with carts say, “no you first,” “no after you”. I see it in the smiles of my co-workers all lined up on my screen on a Zoom call.
With all of this in mind, I’ve made peace living and working alone and realized the silence doesn’t bother me anymore. It seems, I’ve called a truce with the quiet. I’m not trying to replace any of you or our interactions anymore, I’m just accepting that they’re different now and just because you are all further away then usual, doesn’t mean I’m alone.
We’re all just at that biggest, spread-out concert in the world. The musician super sucks, but I’ll keep remembering that we’re all in this together. We are all here together and after this we will be stronger.