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White Noise

February 29, 2012

Each February, around this time I get in a slight funk. The holiday season, full of bustle and hope is long gone, work projects I seemed excited to tackle in January appear now more paycheck than passion, and there’s a huge space of reality between now and the next time I’ll see anyone in my family. But, mostly, I think it’s because this is the week my father died.

Some years, his birthday, or my parents’ anniversary, or the anniversary of his death might roll right on by, and several days later I’ll slap my forehead and remember. Other years, I dread it until it comes, worry myself into a panic, and allow it to pass fairly uneventfully since I’ve gotten myself into such a tizzy beforehand.

Either way, it’s strange to miss someone and both try to forget because it hurts, yet want to remember because it’s the only thing you have left.

I had this moment a few weeks ago in the hammam (essentially a Turkish bath) at my gym. This marble chamber is usually so peaceful and I like to pop in before or after yoga if time permits. More often than not I’m the only one in the room, soaking up the silence. I feel sort of close to my father there, since his early career in journalism was so steeped in Middle Eastern affairs and covering conflict there. But, particularly this day, it was because there was music playing softly. I’m certain it was supposed to be tranquil, flutes in unison set to mimic the wind or something, but I found it grating in the hammam, almost echoing louder and louder in a place normally reserved for strict silence.

This reminded me so much of my father because he had such an aversion to loud noises, which is ironic because his idea of a sick joke was to wake us to the Rolling Stones or Elton John or the Beatles blaring through the Bose speakers in the living room.

Babies crying, temper tantrums, anything uncontrollable and hysterical really, my father couldn’t handle. He said it reminded him of Vietnam and we all respected that explanation. As I age, I notice myself annoyed with the volume level at which our world operates. From television shows with people yelling at and talking over each other to the fact that every other person you encounter these days feels the need to talk on a mobile phone at crazy decibels like no one else is around. I wonder what he would’ve done with the noise factor now. I think it would’ve driven him mad.

I tend to think, especially now that he’s gone, that white noise happens to distract us and throw us off course a bit. To dip into something that’s not essential in our day. Because unfortunately, I learned just after my father died that most of us turn small conversations into something much bigger than they need to be–I just didn’t know it at the time. Unfortunately, when I was 24 and my father was 54, the only noise that mattered was the oddly calm conversation coming from the other end of the telephone on a random Saturday morning that had me hours later arriving home and confronting my father’s death and the chaos that surrounded it.

I often wonder what kind of a man he would’ve been today, at 65, instead of never making it past that last week in February. While I cannot predict what he’d be listening to right now, I know I hear things differently and likely will for the rest of my life.