The sounds of living alone

In today’s society, we seek to live insular lives.  We draw back from our neighbors, our co-workers, from people we meet in the store on the street.  This is in direct opposition of who we are as human beings.  We’ve forgotten that humans evolved as social animals.  We need other people.  We need to be surrounded by friends and family for our physical and psychological well-being.

But the computer and the TV have become our village, our clan, our tribe. We crowd into cities, but we don’t know our neighbors. Those, like me, who live in connected habitation seek to insulate ourselves from those we share common walls with.  We have gone mad.

As I write this, I’m listing to the sound of my next door neighbor’s clothes dryer.  I can hear my downstairs neighbor’s baby crying.  There is my across the hall neighbor puffing up the stairs carrying groceries and slamming his door. I hear the traffic on the street, and people walking up the sidewalk talking and laughing. I find these sounds comforting.  Just because I live alone, doesn’t mean that I am alone.

I’ve grew up in a small town, in a single family house.  When I moved to college, I wasn’t used to the noise that other people made, both in my apartment and from the neighboring walls.  My first apartment was on a fairly busy street, and the sounds of the traffic drove me nuts.  I didn’t like the lights from the parking lot that flashed in my bedroom window at night, or the sounds of giggling girls on their way to the community swimming pool.  It took me years to get used to these sounds, but now, when I visit my parent’s house, I can’t sleep because everything is too quiet.

Still, I worry about the noise that comes from my house.  When I can’t sleep at 2:30, I wonder about starting a load of laundry, but decide against it because I don’t want the noise to disturb my neighbors.  I give in to the dogs barking at me because I’m not doing what they want me to do because I’m worried about the neighbors.  I like hearing their noises, but I don’t want them to hear mine.

I don’t know if I can talk with any authority about building a community.  I’ve live in my condo for three years now, and know the neighbors by sight, but not name. I know the family that lived downstairs and across the hall from me had a dog named Lady, and that their house was foreclosed on, but I don’t know what their names are.  In fact, I know more of the dogs that live in my complex then I know people. My neighbors probably know me the same way,—they’ve heard me call Max and Lulu, but they don’t know my name.   I’m shy and withdrawn enough that I’m not going to go introduce myself after 3 years.

So how do we change?  How do we break out of these insulated little compartments that we call our lives?  Is it even worth it?

I don’t have all, or even some of the answers.  I’m not sure enough that I even want to change.

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