I listened to an episode of Reply All today. For reasons that ultimately aren’t that important, PJ and Alex decided to take calls from the public for 48 hours straight. As the hours wear on, it starts to feel unreal—a delirious haze of half-consciousness. Words, words, words, misty and ephemeral, going on and on and on. The ordinary openings, “hello”, “hey”, “how are you”, usually polite and banal, feel like an increasingly violent assault when fired off by an endless stream of strangers, a burden that becomes heavier and heavier—until you can hear the strain and desperation in these usually cheerful and snappy voices.

It’s something I feel a little bit every day, in every single one of these kinds of surface interactions, a heaviness. Only now, it’s been multiplied and magnified by this strange experiment, to the point where everyone else can feel it too. A few minutes of silence, provided by a listener who called in just to put her phone on mute for them, is a welcome relief. A few people call in and share real stories, moments from their real lives—these are also a welcome relief. The truth in their words, emotion without affectation, cuts right through the noise. Their voices are like churchbells ringing out over a valley of fog.

And now, I’m sitting at work, and I’m listening to a new album by a band called Lucius. I’ve never heard of them before today. But they sing out: “Don’t want to talk to you today / don’t want to play the games you wanna play.” Another song starts out “Maybe I’ll drive myself to madness… spinning in circles / don’t have it figured out just yet.” Maybe it’s coincidence and it only feels related. I’m open to the idea of confirmation bias. But there’s something about it that feels connected and comforting.

I find myself longing for a room with warm but gentle lighting—filament lights, strings of twinkle lights, a fireplace maybe—where I can sit and be with the people I care about most for a few hours. I want to cast a magic spell—a spell that makes it so that my words don’t feel all awkward and my voice doesn’t sound strange to me after it leaves my throat. A spell that creates a moment of understanding. Or maybe it would be enough to have a moment of silence, where we can sit together and appreciate the absurdity of it all. Or maybe we drive to the ocean and listen to the waves for a while.

The ocean doesn’t say “hi”, “hello”, “how are you”. It says “Shhhhhh. Shhhhhhh.”

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