Maybe I’m getting old.
I say that because nearly every time I sit down to write a column, it seems I’m writing something about the passage of time, or significant milestones in life, or maybe commenting on the way life used to be. When I do this, I recall my parents, and before that my grandparents, often talking about how life was when they were young adults, or children, and how things have changed.
I always enjoyed those stories, even the ones I had heard many times over, so much so that sometimes I’d start the conversation with questions I knew would lead to those old stories.
Still, as a young person I always thought telling “old-timer” stories was the exclusive domain of those who were, well, old.
Nevertheless, I was struck by something the other day that has stayed with me. I was out early one morning walking down what at first appeared to be a deserted country road. There were alternating fields and woodland on each side, a dilapidated old barn, far off in the distance was one of those small family cemeteries that were once common.
Despite the relative remoteness of the road, I noticed something: It wasn’t quiet.
Sure, there were plenty of birds singing, some hay rustling in the field when the wind blew, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Off a bit was a decent-sized highway, and while there wasn’t a constant stream of traffic, there were few breaks in between them. When there was break, further off in the distance was the low but constant din of interstate traffic. And if that wasn’t enough, during a 30-minute walk two planes flew overhead, close enough to the ground for me to hear them.
For some reason, that reminded me of another walk I took, maybe 9 or 10 years ago, when we were living in the tiny little town of Warrenton, here in North Carolina. When I say tiny, I mean it was small — when we moved there, my family bumped the town’s population by nearly a full percent.
It was an early Sunday morning when I went on that stroll, along a tiny back road leading out of town, and I was thinking about how quiet and peaceful it was there when I realized it wasn’t so quiet. A car or two passed by, and yes, a plane flew overhead. Off in the distance I heard some church bells at one point.
When none of those things were going on, when it should have been silent I heard the constant hum of an overhead power line.
It seems nearly impossible, today, to find anywhere that’s truly quiet.
So what’s the big deal?
Maybe nothing. But being in the news business, I see a lot of reports coming across the wire services, and plenty online, of road rage incidents, school violence, protests turning increasingly violent, growing polarization not just in politics but in seemingly every area of cultural and social interaction between people, widespread health problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, and the list of our modern ills could go on and on.
I’m not naive enough to pine for the old days when life was slower and simpler and all was well in the world. A lot of today’s ills were with us 50 and 100 years ago, we just didn’t have it in our face 24 hours a day via the internet, never-ending cable television, texts, Snapchat, and so forth.
And the modern world is great in a lot of ways, with commonplace parts of our life (computers, the internet, air conditioning, cell phones, etc.) that were little more than a dream for many of us just 40 or 50 years ago.
Still, I wonder if a few of today’s modern ills are precisely because of those modern “conveniences”? What I mean is when I was a kid, many warm evenings during the year (and even some chilly ones) ended with all of us sitting quietly on the front porch, surrounded by the night air. There was an occasional passing car to break the silence, but mostly the only noise was the creak of the porch swing, the echoing call of an owl or a whippoorwill, and the occasional sound of our conversation.
Over the years I’ve come to realize my family was a little different than many, we were especially tight-knit and looked out for one another (and still do). Many of the hard feelings and me-first attitudes common in modern society never managed to slip their way into my family.
Even still, that experience of sitting in the still of the night, winding down, with no television or traffic noises or phones ringing or computers beeping, was a common experience for many during those years. Heck, the television networks went off the air some time between midnight and 12:30, so there was nothing to watch even if we wanted to stay up late. Some of the radio stations even signed off either at sundown or at midnight.
As wonderful as most modern conveniences are, I have to believe if we could just all get away from the phones and computers and television and traffic for a couple of hours every night — maybe even just two or three nights a week — we’d find folks aren’t quite so high strung, disputes between individuals and groups might be less confrontational, and even our general health might be a little better.
Even if none of that happened, it sure seems like we’d just enjoy that time a little more.
John Peters is editor of The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at [email protected].