There are three sounds that always remind me of my insignificance in the universe:
“The midnight train is whining low. I’m so lonesome I could cry”
We live just a few miles from an Amtrak station and although the fancy passenger trains don’t conform to the image of a steam engine chugging away across the prairie, the steam visible for long, flat miles, its cry echoing behind, the Amtrak whistles are just as lonesome as the one in the Hank Williams lyrics.
The trains seem to sound their call whenever they come to a town or a track crossing, but I only hear them in when it’s dark outside.
I signed up for a class in college called the physics of sound, or something like that. It was supposed to help me with sound engineering for the theater, but I quickly realized the science was way over my head and dropped the course. If I had continued, I might have learned whether or not night air conducts sound better and that’s why the train whistles are more noticeable in the dark or if it’s just my imagination.
Either way, there’s something about the image of a train hurtling through the night while I am safe in my bed makes me feel small.
Nighttime Manhattan Traffic.
I travel to New York once a year for an arts presenters conference. We stay in a hotel on 6th Avenue and I love lying in bed at night listening to the traffic on the street below, even the sirens and honking horns.
It’s a reminder that I’m just one person in a big city, a big world.
The traffic makes me think that there are people out there giving birth and dying, meeting their future spouse and breaking off a relationship, sleeping on the street and living in luxurious penthouses.
There’s nothing like an awareness of the lives are going on all around you to remind you of your place in the world.
I don’t listen to AM radio very often, but I remember spinning through the dial as a child. (Yes, spinning the dial. I’m old.)
Again, there seems to be something about the conductivity of night air, because I would always stumble across station from far away, sometimes in other languages.
Like the Manhattan traffic, listening to a deejay from a different state or country creates an awareness of the rest of the world, the one outside your immediate environment.
There’s an added mystery when the station is from another culture and you don’t know what they are talking or singing about.
All of these sounds make me feel a little lonely and insignificant in the scheme of things, but it’s a good perspective to have once in a while.
I’ve met a lot of folks who think they are the center of the universe and could use a train whistle or two to remind them that there are other people in the world.