The Essential Sound of Cacophony

Photo by Christian Bowen on Unsplash

At different levels of lock-down during this pandemic, I have been in relative isolation with the residents of my workplace, during coffee or meal times, as part of a team that provides dietary care to these seniors.

Coffee Time

I’m serving coffee to a line-up of socially distanced seniors. They make their way to tables spaced appropriately apart. Once they have their coffee and snacks, sitting at their tables their masks come off, and that is when cacophony begins.

I love that word – cacophony. Miriam Webster’s Dictionary defines cacophony as “discordant sounds,” as in a crowded room, where voices are indistinguishable from the general clamor. It’s the opposite of a choir.

Photo by Aaron

Silence pervades the space

Photo by chiranjeeb mitra on Unsplash

I realize how valuable it is to see people gathering over food, hearing the indistinguishable chatter which is the rolling drone of the crowd.

The tone of this cacophony seems, well, almost normal. It’s not quite normal, because this place is defined by a protective social bubble. 

It’s as if we have preserved a small pocket of normal, where indistinct chatter can exist, apart from the silence of our times. Yet nothing could be more normal than a crowd of people chattering over food, which is so rare an occurrence these days, that I bask in its cacophony, not paying attention to any one sound, but let the whole of it wash over me.

Filling the void

Photo by Antenna on Unsplash

Characteristic of this pandemic is a lack of crowded rooms. Instead, the noises tend to be media, entertainment, or group chats online.

As much as a group video can seem normal, the many voices online do not register that same feeling of group clamour – it’s more irritating and confusing, with people talking over each other because of time delay. As much as these conferences are in real time, they are far from the real experience of company, which is somehow softer.

Noise takes on a different meaning when it comes from a computer speaker. Indistinct chatter at dinner time feels more pleasant, and just sort of slips into the background of the experience.

The group experience

Indeed, working with seniors is the most social my life has been these past nine months. These are other people’s parents and grandparents that I get to be with, while ironically mine receive care from similar workers like me.

Living in BC, I am very fortunate to be working as an “essential service worker” during stay home public health orders.

The sweet sound of elderly people enjoying their social connections over such simple activities as “coffee time” has enormous power in the otherwise silence of social isolation.

Photo by Elvir K on Unsplash


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