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Feb092010

Solo Drum 

 Copyright © 2010 by Carol Jean Shriver


                             Photo Copyright © 2004 by Robert Hewitt  

 

(Reposting on May 27, 2016, with warm affection for Prem N. Chopra, my new inspiration who has brought me back to writing.) 

 

Years ago, I chose a graduate program in mass communications because I was personally driven to understand it better and to delve into the relationship humans had with it. Mass communications, in all its forms, is the way humans connect with each other as a multitude, as a society. 

One of the first mass communications was a drawing on a cave wall. Cave drawings and paintings were first created more than 30,000 years ago, and some experts believe cave drawings date back to over 40,000 years ago. Now picture Times Square in New York City at night. Picture yourself on the street, the immense video walls surrounding you, towering over you, as you walk inside the enormous cavernous onslaught of messages of the skyscrapers' cave.  

Another first mass communication was distant smoke rising into the sky, a signal from the tribe. The earliest known sites where humans used fire date back to between 200,000 to 400,000 years ago. Maybe the smoke was a reassuring sight to guide one back to camp after a day of hunting. Or maybe the smoke was a warning. Now imagine yourself channel surfing your television. What are you looking for? 

Around 6,000 years ago, as far as we know, humans started making drums. The beating of a drum became a significant form of mass communication in all parts of the world. It is easy to imagine that if humans were drawing in caves 30,000 years ago, they may have been creative enough to beat two sticks together to create pleasing and meaningful rhythms, if for no other reason than to imitate what they heard and felt inside their chests. The oldest drum of all is the one inside the body. You are born with it. For as long as your body is alive, it has a rhythm. You do not live in a cave, but this you can relate to, right? Drums. Music. Songs.

When I was a little girl, Simon and Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence" was a hit on the radio. I first heard it on my fuzzy toy black poodle transistor when I was supposed to be sleeping. I told my mother about it, and she told me to let her know the next time I heard it on the radio so she could come listen. So I did. After I'd been put to bed for awhile, the song came on my poodle radio. I called out "Mom!" and she came into my room and sat on the edge of my bed and became engrossed in the song. 

Shortly after, my Mom and I went to the one major record store downtown. My Mom talked to the clerk, and then she bought the whole album for me. Although my big brothers' albums were already a major part of my music life and I used my allowance to buy 45s at our neighborhood Woolworth's, Simon and Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence" was my very own first adult album, a world away from "Peter and the Wolf" and my other children's records.

Looking back over my life, Paul Simon's song "Sounds of Silence" resonates as the theme of my life in that everything I set out to do that is of passionate importance to me is an effort to break the Silence, wherever it may dwell, including inside myself. I have been doing this instinctively, automatically, and I do not know why, or where this came from. My need to do this did not originate from Paul Simon's song. His song simply spoke to me. 

During my first year at graduate school, while driving back to my apartment outside the city of Syracuse after a late night at Bird Library, "Sounds of Silence" came on my car radio. It was pouring rain. I was on a dark country road and could barely see. It had been awhile since I had heard it, so I turned up the volume on "Sounds of Silence." 

Driving in the darkness I suddenly saw a vision in my mind of the entire world, masses of people everywhere, leaders of countries and homeless people, ordinary people and famous people, poor people and rich people, people who do good things and people who do bad things, all hurting in some deep way, all struggling to be heard, but none of them able to hear anyone else, everyone trapped within their own self while desperately trying to be heard, everyone drowning in Silence. And this, I suddenly realized, was the original source of all pain, and of all that was wrong.

This vision of deafening silence in masses of gaping pained faces gripped my gut and I sobbed suddenly, hard, and uncontrollably as I looked into the darkness of this vast and unfathomable truth. I kept driving, my vision blurred by my tears and the pounding rain that my windshield wipers could not keep up with. I wished I could save them all, I wished there was a way to break the Silence. I wished there was a way to stop the pain of the whole world. Like a little girl, I wished with all my aching heart for something I knew was impossible.

I was finally in direct emotional contact with my life's mission while simultaneously in direct contact with the utter futility of my mission. As Simon and Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence" kept playing on the car radio, the bottom kept dropping, farther and farther away. It was as if I had been hanging onto something for a long time but my grasp had been in vain, and now I watched it fall into oblivion as I gripped the steering wheel, making my way through the deluge of rain lit only by my headlights. 

But somewhere in the watery light I saw hope. A dim light in the darkness. Maybe breaking the Silence in the smallest ways could make a difference; maybe even a tiny difference was better than none. I would go on spending my life doing this in one way or another, no matter how small, no matter where I went or what I did, during the speck of time that was my life. I could not stop crying until the song ended. 

I have never forgotten that moment. I never before knew that I could be so gutted of myself, so filled up with compassion for the whole world, so aware of that much pain; the pain of all who were living and of all who had ever lived before, and the pain of all who were yet to be born.  

But as amazing as that was, it was too much to hold for longer than a moment. If I ever allow myself to feel that again for very long, if I were even able to do that, I feel I would be drowned by it. I might not be able to make a sound at all. 

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Reader Comments (3)

This really makes me want to hear more.

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdarkstar48

What a great post! I went to school with a budding young filmmaker who created an award-winning animated short featuring cave art. What a thrill to see someone come forward 35 years later and discuss the roots of mass communications in our species' artistic legacy!

That your viewpoint was informed by Simon and Garfunkel's Sounds of Silence casts you as a kindred spirit. My turning point in the pool of life came after I heard Bob Dylan's Freewheelin' as a 12-year old. By the time Paul and Artie came to the fore, I too had to learn circular breathing to swim through the 60s!

Be well and keep on writing!

March 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJust Walkin'

You most ASSUREDLY break the silence....in spades! I'm glad I took the time to read this during an extremely hectic era for me. It was revealing, informative and sweet all at once. Thank you

April 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrahma

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