noise-canceling headphones
02-25-2023 • 5 min
earlier this month, i bought my first pair of good headphones. all i wanted was for them to be noise-canceling. when asked why that, of all reasons, was my deal-breaker, i couldn’t really explain.

i remember standing on the harvard bridge on a midnight in April 2019, trying to take a picture of the Charles and the lights of the city reflecting on the water and the way the night was so loudly silent so i could show my parents how perfect it was—how happy it made me. but no matter how many shots i took, how i changed the focus of the lens, the picture wasn’t perfect. and i was so frustrated because all i wanted was to share a perfect moment with two of the most important people in my life. that was the first time i realized that there are some things that you just can’t capture. and no matter how similar the photo was to what i saw that night, only i will ever know the way standing on that bridge makes me feel. and the loneliness that comes from such intense emotion was so unsettling because it’s hard to find meaning in an experience if it can’t be communicated exactly the way it’s felt.

in The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien explains that in storytelling, the narrator has the power over how a listener reacts to a story—to convey the truth, sometimes, more than the truth is required. he reveals that most of the war stories he wrote about didn’t actually happen, but how we felt as a reader would be closest to how war really felt. he writes, “a thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.” i remember being irrationally upset when i got to this part of the book. i thought it all actually happened, i thought the people were real, i thought the emotions i felt were for the truth—but instead, i was robbed of the truth under the guise of a “true war story”.

i’ve started to realize that there is something special about keeping some experiences to myself. i find comfort in the fact that there are some things that exist only within me at a particular instant in time, and that even my memory can’t give them the credit they deserve. somehow leaving that instant as a blip in time simultaneously destroys and immortalizes it. the noise-canceling was a deal-breaker because it allows me to briefly separate myself from everything around me and temporarily live in this bubble—so to put that feeling in a pair of headphones is more than i could ask for.

maybe it’s not that they mean nothing, but that experiences mean so much more when they can’t be communicated exactly the way they are felt. i think back to The Things They Carried and realize that i was upset because he was right. maybe i wouldn’t have shed tears while reading the book if he just wrote “war is hell,” because as he says himself, “i can’t believe it with my stomach. nothing turns inside.” so Tim O’Brien attempts to do what i selfishly like to keep to myself. he attempts to describe the indescribable by writing more than an experience—because when a moment can’t be captured, it becomes more than the moment itself.

perfect is defined as “having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.” that night in April couldn’t be captured because it was perfect. it was solitude, not loneliness. that moment, removed from everything else, was already as good as it is possible to be and didn’t need to be shared because nothing could have made it better. in Tar Baby, Toni Morrison writes that “at some point in life the world's beauty becomes enough. you don't need to photograph, paint or even remember it. it is enough. no record of it needs to be kept and you don't need someone to share it with or tell it to. when that happens—that letting go—you let go because you can.” so when i put on my noise-canceling headphones, i enter a world only i will ever know, not because it’s impossible to share, but just because i don’t want to.