I’m no musician but in the last weeks, I have become more and more attuned to sound. It began when my house was broken into at 4 in the morning. The low, insistent growl of my dog over the whir of the air conditioner unit placed in my bedroom window. The stunning silence created as a dark shadow passed quickly under the window and away before my sleep soaked eyes. The sound of my own disbelief.
Now, I keep waking in the night and hearing things that may or may not be there. I imagine the whisper of the small blade cutting the screen to lift my windows open. I hear footsteps just outside my bedroom. I wait for the clank of the dumpsters behind me as they open and shut across the fence, reminding myself that sound at least, is normal. But their banging noise continues to surprise me each time. So, slowly, I am learning how to trust the night again by their regularity. My lover turns over and sighs in his sleep, or talks to me about things he doesn’t recall in the morning light.
Other noises have been present in this neighborhood lately too: gunshots, firecrackers. I am learning to distinguish them, and to let go of their results. I feel sad and resigned at this fact. Long, black cars blast gospel music through the streets on a Sunday morning. Girls cackle. Birds chirp and fight, squirrels roll and fall from the back fence. The clamor of my heart.
I remember one other time when sounds became so important, or rather the lack of them. After a year living in Marrakesh, and hearing the call to prayer for hundreds of days on end, when I returned to the US, for months I would wake up at the precise time of the call and swear I was hearing it. I would awake and be waiting for it. It was a song that had come to live inside me, as a part of me and its absence was a place I ran my fingers over, like the lost limb could somehow still be present, instead of a phantom of haunting song which spoke to the rustle of night-not-yet-morning, and prayer.
Since my return to the east coast this summer, inside of me has in return has gotten still and quiet. I’ve sort of stopped fighting all the noise. I am no longer above it or separate from it. The beginner’s mind of accepting what is. This city, its dirt and grime and sorrow have pulled me in. I find myself merely searching for small moments in which I can take refuge. They are like this: sitting in the park and hearing the cacophony of children, knowing my neighbors on the street. A woman who lives nearby stops me to tell me all about how her favorite dog died, how she had to put her to sleep and how she died in her arms, how she’s angry about what America does to its animals, how if she could, she would go live somewhere warm, away from winter. These interactions happen without provocation because, though the city brings noise and fear, disgust and discomfort, it also brings contact. And much of that contact is surprising and substantial. It is an anchor.
My life in the east has and continues to teach me the very difficult lesson of letting go of my particular attachment to knowing what is around the next corner. Nothing about my life here has been expected, predictable, under my control or even very comfortable mostly. But I have promised myself, if for no other reason than principle, to take each thing I encounter as if it has every possibility of being the most delightful experience possible. That is what the beginner must be willing to do. To be pliant, to be supple, to trust.
This afternoon, the most astonishing sound appeared. It was that of a perfect wind, rustling the leaves of the tree outside my window. The promise of autumn hidden inside a swaying of branches. I lay on my bed stretching my limbs out, my eyes closed and listened. It moved like redemption.