I’ve lived long enough with city noise that I’ve become accustomed to it. Just as there is never true darkness in the city (nor, sadly, in increasing amounts of the world — thanks, light pollution!), so there is never really quiet. Even in the middle of the night, some neighbor is awake, and anyway there is always the sound of traffic.
But I grew up with quiet. Not silence, which on Earth is only a relative term, but a lack of that ever-present, ambient human noise. It was an everyday thing when I was growing up to hear the trees move in the wind, or water lapping against the shore; those sounds weren’t buried.
Now when I visit my dad’s house I always notice it. Even walking on the beach with my family, I notice it — sure, there are children’s voices and footsteps, but there are also pauses in between, and there it is: Tiny waves spilling over stones. Leaves drifting against each other. Endless, and unaffected by me.
When I was young, home — more specifically, the beach and woods around our house — was sanctuary, and my sense of it remains to this day. This sense of quiet is tied up in my sense of safety. When I spend a little time there I feel myself relaxing instinctively. There is nothing to prove, nothing to fear; it is entirely permissible simply to be.
My children almost certainly lack that association. Or do they? I know I’m not the only person to respond this way to being away from the ever-present sense of people. Someday, when they’ve gotten old enough to express their self-reflection, I’ll ask them. For now I think it’s enough to be there with them.