Saturday, November 26, 2016

One Foot In and One Foot Back

Someone much wiser than I once explained to me that freedom of speech doesn't entitle you to shout fire in a crowded theater, nor does it afford you the privilege of sitting next to someone and whisper non-stop as the celluloid races through the projector gates. The danger, he said, each one of us faced was that 'sometimes the things you do speak so loudly I cannot hear what you're saying.' 

I thought about that yesterday as I watched people scurrying through malls beginning the search for low-cost holiday gifts for their mailmen and newspaper carrier, oil tank filling guy, coffee making person, and so on; a dozen or a hundred jobs that no one notices until they're not done. The trick is to make sure to find something that doesn't like cheap and when you start the hunt early, you have a better chance. 

I've had this conversation with neighbors in years past who have a very complex and complicated mental math they do to compute just how much to spend on a gift for a person whose name they, more often than not, do not know or for one who, if the job is done right, they rarely see (not at Adam's house, of course; he gets up so early he probably takes the news carrier with him for a jog). 

And in the case of the 'sandwich guy' or the 'coffee server' (and the like), it's a person with whom you would never speak, aside from 'please' and 'thank you', but if you crossed paths in a locale such as Borneo or even Boise, you'd chatter away like magpies who'd known one another your whole lives. The concept is called familiar strangers and many of us have a world populated with them and very few others. 

I've gotten better as I've aged (I'm not bragging; I set the bar pretty low) and I no longer immediately say everything I'm thinking, which I did for decades and then I wondered why I had tension-filled relationships with people. Turns out I had difficulties distinguishing between inside and outside voices, especially as I tend to hear both, and if you don't, it's your loss. Blurting is often hurting, a little tip from me to you about getting along here on the ant-farm. 

There was a time I'd ask people shopping for the knick-knack thank you gifts, 'why don't you just give the person money?' After all, it's a holiday whose primary colors seem to be red and green and since most of us are in the former why not share some of the latter? I think we give each other seconds of pleasure that are put away and forgotten or lost by the end of the holiday season because we can't stand the insulted silences if we didn't. 

It's not words, so much, that frighten us, it's the quiet between the words. That the words have, perhaps, sharp edges is all well and good as long as they keep coming, because that way we don't have to worry there might be time to think about their meaning and the last thing many of us want to do is find ourselves alone with our thoughts. 

I sometimes wonder if there's life on other planets and, like us, if have giant parabolic microphones to pick up the sounds emanating from this septic orb. If so,  if they've long since learned to turn the volume all the way down I suspect. We wouldn't mind, I fear. 

"Dumbed down and numbed by time and age.
Your dreams that catch the world the cage.
The highway sets the travelers stage.
All exits look the same."
-bill kenny

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