Two years ago last week we had put an offer in to buy a piece of land (not the one in the picture). Our offer was behind another one, but all indications were that that previous one would expire. So we were waiting. And waiting. And waiting to hear the outcome. I’d fallen in love with it before we even set foot on it – the drive on the road out was amazing – and knew that there was no status quo anymore. If we got it, I’d be ecstatic. If we didn’t, I’d be devastated. The vibe of the place was perfect for me. I’ve never felt so instantly “I’m home, yes, this is good, this is right, I can breathe here” in a place before, and I don’t think I’d felt so much hope concentrated on one outcome since my primary school held a raffle for a doll in a basket. (Yeah, I can’t quite believe it of myself either. A doll, a basket, me, honestly.)
Later that week a good childhood friend died suddenly.
As you can imagine, the thoughts of the land went out the window as I tried to get a handle on this very new and very much unexpected grief. Our offer was irrelevant given the other circumstances and I felt guilty whenever it popped up in my mind, which wasn’t often. A few days later on we found out that we didn’t get it; the first offer was accepted 30 minutes before the three week deadline lapsed.
I remember walking down the hill to the train station after work feeling unreal. It was freezing cold, raining, and there was an overwhelming sense of detachment and sadness about everything I saw.
On the corner of Anzac Ave a homeless lady sat, every afternoon, in the same place, saying the same words – Chaaaaange pleeeeeaaase – and wearing the same clothes. I’d spoken to her once or twice in the past, but only to say an unhelpful hello with a just-as-unhelpful rueful smile. Today it was like there was a great searchlight beaming down on her; I looked and my only thought was “You feel it too.” Somehow, we’re able to recognise our own feelings in others, they resonate with us, and become magnified and multiplied. I went into the shop behind her and bought a bag of easy-to-eat-while-living-on-the-streets food, and gave it to her before dashing off into the rainy night.
What I actually wanted to talk about here is this phenomenon of resonance and of recognition. Just as pushing a child (or an adult, let’s not be ageist) on a swing works best when the push is well-timed at the height of their swing, resonance relies on matching a driving force with some inherent property – the natural frequency – of the oscillating part. It doesn’t work nearly as well if you try and push that child (or adult) while the swing is still coming towards you, or at the bottom of the arc; for the push to give the best effort-to-swing-height-ratio it must be precisely tuned to the motion of the swing. Without resonance we would not have radios, or guitars, or lasers, or speech or clocks or MRI scanners and so much more. But we also would not have disasters like the spectacular Tacoma Narrows “Galloping Gertie” bridge (see video below), buildings shaking like in Korea caused – apparently – by a vigorous workout regime, or the moronic youtubers who put bricks into their washing machines.
Resonance is an important phenomenon, it happens all over the place, and – like so many other things – has the potential for both great utility and great tragedy. And I don’t think that resonance is limited to the physical world, the metaphor easily stretches into the emotional. Even in our language it’s there: we talk about places and people having a vibe (no prizes for guessing what that’s short for), and the Beach Boys’ hit, Good Vibrations needs no explanation (but if you’re really interested, there’s a hugely detailed analysis of it here). We say that an argument, or movie plot, or piece of art resonates with us; and we mean it almost literally. It fits us, it is the small push at the right time which bounces around inside us and becomes something much larger. So if it’s so well understood already, why do I need to write about it?
When we’re happy, fulfilled, in a good place it’s hard for us even to recognise or be aware of sadness, let alone understand it. Someone else’s anguish is, to us, the mistimed push: it dissipates quickly and we are unmoved. My feeling of recognition and kinship with the sad homeless lady only happened when I too was sad. New mothers naturally gravitate together because of their shared understanding and common experiences. We recognise and are drawn to people and situations which we have kinship with already.
Unfortunately, the same is true when we’re sad. All states seem to be self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating. So what to do? Is there an answer? If I had a cure for sadness I would be a multi-billionaire (I don’t and I’m not), but perhaps listening to some up-beat music will help? Bear with me, I do know how trite that sounds …
To listen to the Beach Boys on our radio, we need four components:
- an antenna to catch as many radio-waves from the air as possible
- a tuner to allow us to select which of the frequencies we hear
- a diode to change the signal into something intelligible
- an amplifier to adjust the volume
And when we’ve tuned our radio – which, under the hood, means adjusting its resonant frequency – we get a clear musical signal to bop along to. Now. This is important. Listen (read?) carefully. Tuning the radio creates resonance on a single frequency, and that resonance magnifies its signal, it does not have any effect on any other signal at any other frequency. They’re still there, still caught by the antenna, it’s just that our choice of tuning and the magnification it creates is totally drowning out the other signals. And we’ve done that. We’ve tuned the radio. We are the ones with the Bakelite knob and we’re the ones who can twist it and tweak it.
For me, just remembering that there are other stations out there is a massive help. Recognising that when I’m tuned to the sad station, all sad things will be magnified out of proportion. Reminding myself that the other signals are unchanged, that there is just as much happy flying around in the air than there ever has been, and that one day my twist of the knob will find them again. The cry of chaaaaaannnngggeee pllleeeeeeeaaaase has never been more appropriate.