I was in a hall with other people recently.
An innocuous statement.
In the time of Covid, something.
For the past year, like everyone else it has been me and my family.
There was a week in the summer when we went up to Scotland and, sitting in the pub there were others. There was I remember, a drunk woman, loud at the bar. In general however, it has been me, my family, my dog and when I go to the care homes the residents and staff.
All of it mostly quiet.
I am a fan of quiet.
Susan Cain’s book ‘Quiet’ was written for me.
Sometimes I am too quiet. Usually this coincides with a period of brooding or introspection, mind-wandering and anxiety.
My dad was a quiet man.
Looking at photos of his father, Michael, my grandfather who I never met, I am certain he was a quiet guy too.
My maternal grandfather who I knew well and who played a big role in influencing my direction in life was also quiet although his epitaph is ‘gentle-man’.
In the room there were others.
It was the largest face to face gathering I had experienced for a long time.
People, that is, not time.
I won’t say the place or the situation or whether it met or broke Covid regulations as likely, whatever the regulations are now, will be different tomorrow.
Suffice it to say, I kept my distance, didn’t shake hands or eat any of the buffet.
As the only doctor in the room, I had and have a special responsibility not to catch or transmit Covid.
I am tested twice a week and have had my first vaccine, but still.
In this socially distanced space, there were a mixed group of others.
And, for the first time in a year I lapsed into hearing others talking – all at once as extraverts tend to do once permission is granted and, I couldn’t hear what they were saying.
First, it was probably too much, too many people, when I am used to being in a room with no more than perhaps four or at a push five, but also, there were different tones, whispers, comments and asides.
Back in the day, if I struggled to hear someone talking, I would lean-in and cup my ear in their direction, bat-like, it would usually help.
Here I wasn’t leaning-in and to be honest, as no one was talking to me directly, I let it drift.
My hearing is actually OK.
I’ve had it tested and for my age it is adequate. Not supersonic, but good enough to get me through a day talking one on one with patients or colleagues – in person, on the phone, Zoom, Teams or any other form of technology, and, listening to the occasional heart beat or breath sound.
It is more the nature of the noise.
When two or more people are talking and not talking with me, I struggle to tune-in.
Some of this is concentration. Attention. Focus. Interest.
I wonder what it will be like if we are ever back in a time where people gather at parties, social events or tea and coffee breaks.
The hubbub of conversation, of background sound doesn’t work for me.
This likely has a relationship with a neurotic tendency, like tinnitus or free-floating anxiety.
Some of us are designed for the madness of crowds, others for small group or solitary working.
Society tends to celebrate the former.
The masses gathering at protests or sporting events. These are a representation of who we are, of our strength, our might or purpose.
Little old me, alone by the shore doesn’t cut it.
There are lots of us.
Our numbers, that is, of humans are growing all the time.
Me alone on a mountaintop is finite.
A couple of years ago I was trudging across a Derbyshire moor with my family. A troupe of Rabbinical students were walking the other way.
We lapsed into singing The Automatic’s ‘What’s that coming over the hill, Is it a Rabbi…”
I close my eyes and the woodpigeons are calling.
A car drives past my house, its tires humming on the tarmac.
The tap-tap of keyboard clicks accompany this narrative.
The virus that has connected us one to another as humanity, as a species has also pulled us apart.
Our society is grappling, and I can’t hear what everyone is saying.
I will return to my silence.
To my book.
My dog and I negotiating the muddy paths.