Monday, March 15, 2010

The Great and the Small

Last night as my head hit the pillow, I could the the far-off cry of a train whistle. The cliche, of course, is that the sound is a lonely one, but to me it was quite comforting. As I relished this small pleasure, I began to wonder where it was, this train and this sound that made me feel like this.

From how far away, I wondered, can I be comforted by a mere sound?

Mere is meant as an incendiary because we all know how deep sound cuts into our hearts and minds, past, present and future. Not just music--perhaps especially so--but all sound is primordial.

I've been on a train at night, and I've heard that damn whistle from close up. It's a sound you learn to block out, especially if you have designs on sleep, but there it is, comforting all the same.

Now, when I'm in the upper berth in a car just behind the locomotive, I have no doubts about from whence comes that sound. But in bed, late at night, I started wondering. Today, at work, I started searching for the answer. It took a few milliseconds. Thanks Google.

That train goes by about mile and a half away to the east of our house, just past Manchaca Road. I'll bet it's at the Ditmar Road crossing where the engineer blows the whistle. I've crossed the tracks hundreds of times over there and have never given it a second thought till last night.

So, what of knowledge? Does it help or hurt the experience?

I am not a fair judge. The train whistle has sentimental, nostalgic meaning to me, so it helps; it moves me. Someone who lives closer to the tracks might also be moved, but perhaps to write a letter of complaint instead of waxing romantic about it in a blog. Distance as well as sentiment has something to do with it.

Right, but how far? What is the extent of this capacity?

A mile and half seems like a fair distance from which one can be moved, till I realize that I am also similarly moved by the sight of the sunset over Lake Michigan, a golden harvest moon hanging low at the end of the our street, or the sight of Venus in the early evening sky anywhere on Earth.

The capacity of the mind to measure the great--the vast Unknown--with the small--a tiny bit of Knowledge--is indeed one of our greatest gifts.

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