When did the world become so noisy?
The other day, in another city, my wife and I went out to dinner. The restaurant was quaint and beautiful, and the food was delicious and well served. As we visited I thought how much I was enjoying the experience. Then it suddenly occurred to me -- there was no music playing.
I enjoyed the silence. And I thought, "How rare this is! Just to sit here quietly, and visit, without anything booming in the background."
It seems I am in a distinct minority. Almost every restaurant I enter has music playing, often so loud I cannot hear what others say and must shout at them to be heard. If I go shopping in a department store, there is music being played. When I ride in other people's cars, their radios are blaring. Even when visiting people in their homes I often have to ask them to turn down their TV. They leave it on even though no one is listening.
Not only is music omnipresent, it is loud. Sometimes, even though my car windows are shut, another car passes me with music so loud that I feel the vibration. I don't want to think what that is doing to the eardrums of the driver or, worse yet, passengers in his car. If little children are there, this is child abuse.
I need a bumper sticker that says, "If I want to hear your music, I'll let you know."
I believe the day will come when enough people are deaf or have difficulty hearing due to nerve damage, that there will be a public outcry against loud music, and it will be banned just as cigarettes are finally outlawed today in public places. Secondhand noise and secondhand smoke are both harmful. How long will it be until a law says, "Loud music in public places is prohibited. It is dangerous for your health"?
But our society isn't there yet, by a long-shot.
Churches could take the lead in this. Most churches prohibit smoking in their buildings, and many also ban alcoholic beverages. But they may sponsor a Christian rock band that plays so loudly they send me running. They could say, "Because we value your health, no smoking, no drinking and no deafening music allowed."
This doesn't dilute the tune or the message. In fact, the words are more understandable when sung at lesser volume.
If enough customers would ask a restaurant or bar manager to "turn it down," maybe he would. More likely, he'd say, "What? Speak up. I can't hear you."
Now I think I enjoy music as much as many others. I love to listen to a good orchestra. I like hymns at church, and the choir and special concerts. My point is that there are other times when music isn't needed, and silence is delightful.
When I see people jogging with earphones, I wonder if they ever think about what they are missing -- the songs of the birds, the voices of people who pass them, the soft murmur of the breeze, perhaps the lapping of the waves if they are near a beach.
Simon and Garfunkle wrote, "The Sound of Silence." The idea came from the Bible, which speaks of God making himself known not in storm or earthquake or fire but "in the sound of sheer silence."
Try silence sometime. Go to a quiet, beautiful spot -- a mountain trail, a garden, or sit in your car and watch a sunset over the lake. Take a few deep breaths and relax. Now, isn't that better?
Turn the music down, or turn it off, and listen.
Charles Lamb, of Youngstown, is a retired clergyman serving as assistant to the minister at First Presbyterian Church there.