Prior to my 50th birthday, it seemed my car radio was always on. When I was 16, my old Chevrolet’s radio was always blaring the hits played by KXOK radio out of St. Louis. The volume was always cranked to the fullest while my hands banged the steering wheel along with the beat of the music.
I was finally able to squirrel enough money away to install the epitome of musical luxury in my car. It took the form of an 8-track player purchased from K-Mart and installed by me on a cold afternoon. My young wife and I would travel with our small suitcase filled with the cumbersome 8-track tapes. Often my favorite songs were interrupted by a resounding click as it moved to the next track. Eventually the tapes would wear and a paper matchbook would have to be jammed underneath it to enable the tape to play properly. But even with the changing of tracks and the poor tracking of the tape, the volume would still be at the highest level.
As my cars improved with quality over the years, the quality of the stereo system mirrored the enhancement. Cassette tapes in my mind were the greatest creation of human engineering, but then I discovered the invention of CD’s. Instead of having multiple empty cassette cases rattling beneath my car seats or orphan tapes gathering dust and coffee stains, an entire collection of my favorite songs could be easily stored in the space of a paperback novel. As usual, the amplifier of my system enhanced the musical experience, and other cars passing by could easily enjoy my classic southern rock, southern gospel, classic, or country music blaring from at least six speakers.
But something odd has happened. No, I haven’t lost my hearing, but as I have aged, I have discovered the joy of silence. In the morning, I may turn on my radio to get the local weather or news, but no sooner after obtaining the desired information, I’m quite likely to turn it off and become lost in my own musings. The only sound in my car is the blower from my heater, the engine, and the familiar whine of the road. Lost in the silence, I plan my day, consider my options, talk with God, or even just let my fevered brain relax.
This has become my habit since hitting the half-century mark. This morning cruising to work in the silence of my rolling fortress of solitude, I wondered what had brought about such a change in my habits. Did music no longer hold any appeal to me? Had my hearing depleted to the point where silence was my only viable option? Had my artistic tastes gone to the extreme where nothing could slake my musical desires? In every case I was forced to answer, “No.” I still loved a broad range of music, had viable hearing ability in both audio appendages, and my taste in music was still quite civilized.
In a moment of catharsis, I realized exactly what I was doing instead of cranking up the bass and treble. I was thinking. My perspective on my life had changed to the point where I needed my full attention on what I was doing and where I was going and didn’t need the distraction of the Steve Miller Band at full volume.
I had become an older thinking man.
In a moment of recollection, I remembered riding with my father for miles. His car radio was silent as he seemed lost in his own world. At that time in my life, I thought he was simply boring. Now I realize that he was carrying the weight the responsibility of a wife, children, job, and future woes.
What I saw as a boring existence was in reality his strategy planning sessions with God. He didn’t need loud music to clutter up the plethora of other voices bidding for his attention.
“Why don’t you turn on the radio?” my son asked the other day. “It’s just boring riding here with nothing going on.”
“Huh?” I moaned. “I didn’t hear you. I was just thinking.”