Thursday, March 29, 2012

travelling in silence.

There has been a deep silence from this writer and it is indeed the silence of an absence and indeed a reluctance to write during a season of transition especially when a new way of life involves speaking and writing in ways which evoke the inner journey.

Let me begin again and return to an encounter during January on my study visit to Britain.

I want to share the experience of public transport in the UK. When staying with my sister and her family in Chingford I had a delightful visit to the Orthodox monastery at Tollshunt Knights in rural Essex during January.  I travelled by rural bus after a very careful investigation on the Internet about travel options.

One morning I got off a fast but grubby electric train from Liverpool Street at Witham and waited for the bus in the intense cold drinking a coffee from a van outside the station. There was a delightful young woman there who was even colder than me although covered in many layers of clothing and the coffee was okay even though heated to thermonuclear temperatures.

The bus arrived on time (only two a day) and we wended our way into the country along narrow lanes under bare trees.  I had asked another passenger at the stop about the route and from time to time we talked as we journeyed our way through wintry countryside.  This was a local bus and everyone seemed to know one another, so after arriving at the nearest stop the driver called out and he and few others pointed me in the right direction with cheery messages of good advice and good luck.

On my return the bus arrived to the minute and it was similar local experience of conversation and community back to Witham. Then the journey back to London.

Given my self appointed vocation as philosopher of silence I choose to travel in a 'silence' carriage on several occasions across the UK by train and anticipated being able to settle into a corner with a book, and gaze out the window in a soothing reverie.

Now its true that only a few people transgressed the rule of using a mobile phone. In other carriages and in many restaurants people seemed to shout into them, but at every station there were many electronic announcements, repeated little homilies about not leaving luggage behind and other possibly unnecessary information.  London buses had the same style messages with automated voices telling us what the destination of the bus would be, together with the next stop.

This 'light year' advance in transport seems to me to be unnecessary given that now there are electronic destination boards on buses and trains and I presume that if you can't see well or are a stranger that its possible to ask another person or check before boarding the conveyance. Perhaps its all about risk avoidance or a tacit assumption that everyone has no memory and no initiative. A moderate amount of audio information perhaps in different languages could perhaps be more effective.

The country bus to the monastery was not quiet but the communication was courteous, respectful and evoked community as opposed to the announcements that made travelling even in a silent train carriage a noisy and indeed a stressful experience. Even as a visitor I ceased to listen to the repetitious notice about checking for belongings.  The words simply became noise.

This then opens up reflection on the theme of constant repetition. I guess that repetitious speech within the context of a personal relationship carries weight, it becomes a ritual of connecting and caring within the right context of respect but electronic information can be akin to lift music, a sheer invasion of space where less is more and therefore takes on more value since it suggests that another person has thought through what might be significant. I am not suggesting there be no announcements but that these be brief and not repeated over and over again. Perhaps I am in a minority here since we may have become so attuned to endless announcements everywhere we go that we can't be responsible without being told every five minutes what we need to do treated like children.

However if I bring this home to myself and ask the question "how often are my words offered without thought and without care used as a way of self defence or self justification?"