Senior year of college, pretty much every meal I did not eat in the company of my friends was shared with SportsCenter and House Hunters. In Korea, I don’t even have an operating TV, and you can’t watch much from the US online.
The worst though was when Spotify stopped working. Goodbye music.
However, what I missed the most, after my family and friends — and American grocery stores and ovens and shower curtains — was the noise.
I loved Sundays in New York. They were pretty routine for me and full of sound. Around 5:15pm, I’d take the subway from the UWS down to church in Chelsea. The train would arrive, screeching to a stop on the tracks. I’d get on and ride, usually entertained at some point by a mariachi band or a group of “Iiiiit’s showtime!” kids.
At 23rd Street, I’d climb back above ground, welcomed by cars honking and laughter spilling out of bars onto the sidewalks. Once, I arrived at St. Paul’s, I’d immediately be lost in melodies being lifted to the heavens as the bass drum rattled the ancient floorboards and the setting sun illuminated the pastel stained glass windows on cue.
Afterwards, I’d stop by Donut Plant with friends or else walk on clouds back to the 23rd Street station where there’d always be this guy singing “How Great is Our God” with his guitar. His presence was always a great “bye, see you next week.”
And I’d get back on the train feeling alive.
And I’d know that the city was alive because of the noise. Constant, like a heartbeat, letting you know it was still in this thing. Because of the shouting, the talking, the singing, the laughing, the swearing, the clinking of glasses, the barking of dogs, the trumpeting of horns, the noise.
Here, where I am in Korea, it can be so quiet.
Some nights when I’m walking home, I feel really vulnerable. Not unsafe, just exposed, like the whole world knows where I am because the heels of my boots send out sonar signals, piercing the silence with nothing around to muffle the sound. There aren’t even any buzzing cicadas like in Charlotte to accompany my footsteps, only these rabid behind looking raccoon dogs and a few nasty alley cats.
When in the main part of town, occasionally I hear the faint sounds of middle aged men belting “Dancing Queen” from karaoke rooms on the upper floors of high rises, or I’ll see a pack of drunk teenage boys slurring jokes amongst each other. But that’s about it. It’s quiet.
Comparatively, one might say there’s no life here, but as long as it’s not silencing the voice of truth and justice, perhaps the quiet isn’t so bad. It’s just a different way of living, and if we’re measuring noise like vital signs, looking at the extremes, my town in Korea may be comatose, but it’s quite possible New York’s going into cardiac arrest, plagued by some sort of arrhythmia where it’s simply doing too much, trying to prove it’s alive.
In the Bible, a lot of the big characters — Jesus, David, Moses… — spent a substantial portion of time alone in “the wilderness,” where it’s quiet, where there are no distractions, where you can hear yourself think, where you can hear God and remember whose you are.
But as a human, you can’t stay alone in the wilderness forever. Right? You’d go Castaway.
So, what decibel should we be living in? I don’t know, but hopefully while I’m walking here in the quiet, I’ll be able to hear something good, some whispers of life that the noise would otherwise drown out. We’ll see…