Norbert walked between the two rectangles of freshly mown grass on his way to meet a small circle of students who had signed up for his early morning session on American poets. A stiff breeze blew up suddenly, which Norbert found quite lovely as he could see, more so than hear the leaves rustling, skipping down the walk in front of him with each gust that rose and fell. He enjoyed the sound that the wind made against his skin as it rushed past his ears. It was very pleasant.
Just on the other side of the tree bank that separated the quad from the rest of the city, however, was a four-lane, major artery that funneled almost all of the incoming traffic to the University each morning. On this last leg of his journey, the constant din of the cars augmented the constant ringing in his ears, two tones of ceaseless noise that ensure Norbert almost never has a quiet moment on his forty-minute walk from home, at least in the way he imagines that normal people do. He has had this tinnitus for so many years that he cannot even remember when he last experienced the seductiveness of complete silence. Instead, Norbert’s relief from his personal noise comes in the form of different sounds, more interesting noises like this morning’s wind or a gaggle of excited geese, or the ferry’s horn sounding on its approach to the dock.
It is possible for Norbert to orchestrate a shutdown of his brain’s faulty wiring; and he does this as frequently as possible. His colleagues and students may chuckle, though kindly, at his “absentmindedness”. Often they will find him utterly engrossed in one pet project or another—reading a voluptuous piece of poetry, writing a critique of a favorite work, or engaging his students in a friendly but controversial discussion. For Norbert, who has finely honed his ability to focus in and filter out the distractions of everyday comings and goings, being ‘absent’ in this way is the means to an elusive end. If he is lucky, it will happen in the middle of a sentence, or at the lull in a conversation. Suddenly he will become aware that he has been temporarily unaware of the constant squeal and thrum in his head. He doesn’t mind the quirky characterizations that those around him on a daily basis have made of him; silence after all, is his personal, holy grail and his alone.