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The Sound of Silence

By Graham L. Champion

One of songwriter Paul Simon’s greatest songs was The Sound of Silence. Through the years, there have been many different interpretations of what Simon might have had in mind as he penned this tune. As we approach the 2016 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature, I thought it might be interesting to take the various verses of this song and look at what we might face as the Legislature returns to Montgomery in just over 60 days. One thing will be sure and certain when the Legislature returns – Montgomery will be anything but silent.

The Sound of Silence
By Paul Simon
Hello darkness my old friend 
I’ve come to talk with you again 
Because a vision softly creeping 
Left its seeds while I was sleeping 
And the vision that was planted in my brain 
Still remains 
Within the sound of silence

There are some who have opined that this initial verse refers to a sort of depression (darkness) that Simon might have been experiencing as he wrote this song. For those living with depression there are times that thoughts enter their brain that often never are shared with another sole but those thoughts remain with the person – sometimes for years. As those of us who deal with the legislative process regularly know all too often thoughts will come to us when we least expect them Thoughts about what might happen in the next Session, what battles lie ahead, what challenges lie ahead in dealing with the myriad of personalities of the Members of the Legislature. For those who have been around the process for a number of years we realize that there are things that we can discuss with our colleagues and there are other things – thoughts – that are better kept to ourselves. With the pending budget issues, the possibility, even probability, that there will be some court-ordered Legislative elections next year to correct the redistricting problems as identified by the U. S. Supreme Court, with the pending trial of Speaker Mike Hubbard and the challenges to him remaining as Speaker and to the conflicts and splits among the Republican Super Majority in both the House and the Senate there are enough “visions” to scare anyone. As the last three lines of this first verse say “And the vision that was planted in my brain, still remains, within the sound of silence”. Some things are better kept silent.

In restless dreams I walked alone 
Narrow streets of cobblestone 
’Neath the halo of a street lamp 
I turned my collar to the cold and damp 
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light 
That split the night 
And touched the sound of silence

It has been said that pilots, law enforcement, firefighters our military and others have long periods of boredom interspersed with moments of stark terror. By no means do I intend to compare the legislative process to what is experienced by these brave men and women but the line above “When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light” comes to mind I think of those times when it is least expected that a Member of the Legislature uses the Rules to move, or kill, very unexpectedly a piece of legislation. It is imperative that we never turn a blind eye to the process lest we are blindsided. In my more than 20 years in this business I can count numerous occasions when I have been both pleasantly surprised or rudely awakened by something that was not expected. The thoughts of those times are what lead to the restless dreams while walking alone. One thing is certain as we approach the next Session there will be some surprises when least expected.

And in the naked light I saw 
Ten thousand people maybe more 
People talking without speaking 
People hearing without listening 
People writing songs that voices never share 
And no one dare 
Disturb the sound of silence

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Years ago, I was attending a conference and the Keynote Speaker was Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank. While Congressman Frank and I do not see eye-to-eye on many things he had a piece of advice for those in the audience. He indicated that it was advice he gave to every new member of his staff – “Never write when you can speak and never speak when you can listen”. In our everyday life we all-to-often talk about things that we really are not qualified to speak on (Talking without speaking) and far too often we go through the motions of hearing someone as they talk/speak without really listening to what is being said. I am reminded of something my mother told me once when I was a teenager. I was professing my innocence to something she had accused me of doing. Her response was “I cannot hear what you are saying because your actions speak so loudly”. In the public world, there are times that the obvious goes unspoken. This happens for a number of reasons – political correctness, fear of hurting someone’s feelings, fear of retribution or just plain apathy. So often there are thoughts that people have that never get shared because no one dares. What a shame that honesty gives way to fear and what needs to be said never is given a voice.

“Fools” said I “You do not know 
Silence like a cancer grow 
Hear my words that I might teach you 
Take my arms that I might reach you” 
But my words like silent raindrops fell 
And echoed 
In the wells of silence

The previous verse is perhaps the most profound of the entire song. “Silence like a cancer grow”. That is strong. When one or two people refuse to speak out about something that is important to them you must wonder how many others do not speak out as a result of fear, or perhaps worse, indifference? How often have we all been guilty of not saying thank you to a family member, to a friend, or to a member of the military or a first responder for the time, effort and service they provide? How many times have we failed to let a friend know just how much we care about them only to get that call letting you know that your friend has passed away unexpectedly? How many times have we all asked ourselves what if I had just picked up the phone and said, “I am thinking of you. Thank you for what you mean in my life”. Those unsaid words will echo in the wells of silence forever.

And the people bowed and prayed 
To the neon god they made 
And the sign flashed out its warning 
In the words that it was forming 
And the sign said “The words of the prophets are written on subway walls 
And tenement halls 
And whisper’d in the sounds of silence
It is human nature for all of us to set goals and priorities. Going into a Legislative Session is no different. We can hope that there will not be the “Neon Gods” mentioned above but there will be expectations of what is to be accomplished. There will be some speed bumps and some potholes. The warning signs will be there if we only will be open to both speaking and to listening.

As we approach Thanksgiving Day later this week it is my hope that you will be able to spend time with your family and friends. Be thankful for the many blessings you have (I know I will take the opportunity to thank those who are with my family and me that day). Make it a point to reach out to at least three people who mean something in your life that would least expect a call from you and let them know that you appreciate them. Let your voice be heard rather that spending the day in The Sound of Silence. Happy Thanksgiving.

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