The buses jangle, rumble, thump, squeal. They whistle till they do not move then, after swallowing whole one gaggle of raucous riders and vomiting another, rattle back to life and begin careening down the hill. A rider’s mouth is never closed, ever projecting louder, broader, higher to overcome the noise without.
That noise I know too well: the packs of impatient motorists bleating like fools; the motorcyclists incessantly announcing their unjust demand that others shoulder the burden of their safety; the cheers and jeers for soccer matches exploding out of small roadside bars; the looping, vile, vapid rhythms of Carioca funk, rasping in the air like a skipping record of a man who cannot sing so shouts as he pummels pots and pans and calls it music.
And, of course, the clockwork blasts of jet engines — that all-too-welcome, all-too-brief crescendo white noise relieving us of the cacophony.
The noise without is not so detrimental as the noise within. The riders with their smart phones. Listening to music. Making calls. Taking photographs. Reading news. Watching television.
The whole of existence is never stopping. The whole of existence is forgetting we exist.
Reality TV to forget our flaws. How-to books to forget our ultimate ignorance. News sites to rage while forgetting those things which we could actually exert control over if only we cared to. Background noise to forget we are alone. Twenty-four hours closer to death, but we keep ourselves occupied with a steady stream of glowing screens and malignant thoughts that are miles long and inches deep—if that, even. Whatever keeps us from examining the root, the soul, the hollow cavity where once lived hope, purpose, diligence, and sacrifice.
It’s difficult enough to aim for virtue, but the big city makes it damn near impossible. The distractions. The noise.
And noise gets us nowhere, silence being essential to our perceiving reality as it actually is.
He who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
And that’s the man who’s properly shut up.
I looked forward to returning home from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for many reasons, but these were the greatest: the ability to think without distraction; the ease with which one can resist the influence of mainstream culture; and the opportunity to be silent and to hear once again.
The most redeeming quality of big cities is that their people are kind enough to congregate in the smallest, densest possible areas, leaving the bulk of this vast empty earth to ruralists like me.