Wednesday, July 15, 2015

SOUND ACROSS WATER – In Touch with Eternity

             Lovers row aimlessly, never beyond 
            sight of the dock—but lost anyway.

I have this romantic notion in my head about the way sound carries over an expanse of water. The image that keeps coming to mind is that of a small east- central Minnesota lake around the end of the 19th century. It could be any lake or placid river, though—perhaps one you remember fondly.

I am at my dream lake. I see families who've come out here from Minneapolis or St. Paul by horse and wagon to spend the long summer afternoon swimming, boating and reveling in the crystal clear waters. Laughter shimmers across the water in gentle, agreeable waves, eventually washing up on every shore.

As evening draws in around the lake, lovers row aimlessly, never beyond sight of the dock—but lost anyway. By nightfall, most have gone home, but a few campfires wink from surrounding woods. The snap…snap of the burning wood sounds like it’s yards away, not half a mile. You can practically hear a whisper across the lake.

You’ve been here before, haven't you? In your childhood, or maybe just in your imagination? What is it about a scene like this that so captures our hearts?

Is it the purity, the utter care-free simplicity of a more innocent time? I guess that goes without saying for us slow-it-down, soak-it-in romantics. But there's more to it than that, something about how the mood gets carried in those sounds.

I know there are scientific reasons for how sound waves carry across water—something about the water surface and the cooler air just above it combining to contain and channel them. But that doesn't interest me as much as the symbolic meaning.

     These sounds—if we let them—draw us in.
     Whether we like what we hear or not, they
     connect us, define us, define our community.

For me, sound is spatial. I think of the way great, spreading American elm trees define the space under and around their huge, fountain-shaped canopy—and how they used to form cathedral-like arches over St. Paul’s residential streets. Like those magnificent arbors, sound encompasses everything it can reach.

If you're a city dweller, it might be the muddled shouts and laughter stirring the thick summer evening air from the baseball diamond a block or two away.  If your neighborhood's a little rougher, maybe it’s the sounds of more boisterous goings-on.

Whatever the source, these sounds—if we let them—draw us in. Whether we like what we hear or not, they connect us, define us, define our community.

Imagining once more that idyllic summer evening at the lake, that timeless sense of community is somehow intensified. With no competing noise, the clarity and reach of that laughter, those campfire conversations and lovers' whispers, seems funneled through our ears and right to our souls. It wraps around us. And the fact of its having to reach across such a chilling, empty space makes the connection feel all the more intimate.

I'm sure that's part of it for me—a longing for community. Don't you feel, sometimes, that we're losing that sense of sharing beloved places or spaces, of wanting to protect them, of knowing, deep inside, that we belong to them and to one another? Do you share my disappointment that, more and more these days, everyone seems concerned with nothing more than the time- and-space immediacy of their own consumption? 

Alas. But why curse the silence when we can make music? Listening for those vital signs and sounds of community doesn't mean we have to live other people's lives nor fix all the world's problems, because, while a quiet lake at night may serve as the instrument, the notes originate in the soul. All we have to do is pay attention, listen with our hopes and our hearts, and care what we hear.