Life in a time of Panic


In Concerning the Sound of a Train Whistle in the Night we are brought into a world of unbelievable loneliness and sorrow yet at the same time we are provided with a glimmer of hope amongst the sorrow in the form of a train whistle that is so far off that it takes an act of faith to believe it.  In this story the boy is describing his love for a girl and in the process shows us the depth of his soul and the remarkable faith he has in another person.

In the beginning of the story the girl asks the boy a question that almost sounds like a challenge.  When asked to explain how much he loves her the boy responds: “as much as a train whistle in the night,” (Train Whistle, 3) a metaphor that we the audience don’t quite understand at this point.   The boy explains that there are times when he wakes up in the middle of the night and can hear nothing around him.  The boy explains: “you don’t even hear the hands of the clock, ticking out the time – for all I know, the clock could well have stopped” (3.)  The idea of it being so silent that even the clock cannot be heard is a metaphor for the panic he feels in his body when he feels alone.

Panic and feelings of helplessness are among the worst feelings we can have.  They lead to terrible depression and thoughts that we may not be good enough – even for ourselves.  The boy says: “it hits me that I’ve become isolated, that I’m separated some unbelievable distance from everyone I know, from every familiar place” (3.)  The boy feels like the lack of sound is equivalent to the lack of feeling in his life.  The boy says that: “I realize that no one in this whole wide world love me anymore, no one will talk to me, that I’ve become the kind of person no one wants to remember” (3.)  The great insecurity that he feels consciously has made its way into his subconscious and it becomes apparent that his real fear is that his own insecurity will overcome him and he will be alone in the world which is exactly how a panic attack feels.

The boy tries to explain the intensity of the pure panic that is going on in his body to the girl and attempts to show how it tears him up inside.  The boy says: “the pressure is so intense it makes my heart ache, I feel like I’m going to explode, to be torn in two” (3.)  What the boy is most likely experiencing here is a panic attack.  Panic attacks are common in people who are depressed and have issues with anxiety.  I can understand the boy’s feelings because I get panic attacks all the time.  These feelings come from depression both in the boy’s case and in my own experience.  They also come from a feeling of darkness within me.

I feel alone like no one will ever be able to revive me from the coma I walk through life in on many days.  It is a feeling of sorrow but also of angst.  My own feelings become engulfed in fear.  The fear that the woman I love doesn’t love me with the same love I have for her.  The fear that she won’t be thereThe boy says that: “I think that’s one of the most painful experiences a person can have in life.  I feel so sad and it hurts so much that I wish I could just go ahead and die” (3.)  This is exactly what a panic attack feels like.  Your breathing becomes difficult, you feel helpless, and all you want is some relief from the feeling – not the problem your body is experiencing – but the reaction that your heart is having from the thoughts that permeate your mind.

The great anxiety that we feel in situations of ardor when it is directed inward cannot be easily relieved.  In some cases it cannot be relieved at all.  The boy says: “I can tell that if things go on in this way, the air in the box is going to get so thin that I really will die” (3.)  Here he is alluding to what happens with your heart and lungs during a panic attack.  The two seem to be going in different directions and it feels like you cannot control either one.  It feels like you are about to stop breathing and that your heart will shut down.  When this happens the oxygen flows disproportionately to your head which leads some to pass out.  Those are the lucky ones.  For most people the pain simply continues and the heart becomes heavier.

The boy talks about the strange feeling of coming out of a panic attack and it is always a strange feeling because it comes seemingly out of nowhere.  The boy says: “I hear a train whistle.  It’s really incredibly far off, this whistle.  I don’t even know where the train tracks could be” (4.)  He may not be hearing anything at all because what is happening in his body has likely overtaken his own sense of consciousness at this point.  When we feel a deep sense of love our hearts become inscrutable and our mind becomes a place of incoherence.  Love is something the heart says that the brain will never understand.

The feelings of anxiety we feel when we’re in love are identical to those we feel when a panic attack strikes.  There is a helplessness and an insecurity – a feeling that deep down we cannot trust –in love and the stark understanding that trust is what you must give in order to truly love even though it is mistrust that has hurt you in the past is overwhelming in its feeling of awe.  However, the moment that the intensity begins to slow down and your heart rate begins to steady feels the same as getting sudden relief from an ear infection.  You go from constant pain to instant relief and you’re glad that you can simply do what you could not do before.  We get this in love as well.  The pain can only cease if we give in to our need to love.  I am a constant bed of worries on even the sunniest days but hearing from her – or better yet being with her – changes me to an ocean full of hope and a man filled with purpose.

Even at a young, tender age the boy is able to understand these feelings even if he is not cognizant of what specific medical condition he is suffering from.  He knows that his heart is heavy and his mind is helpless.  The boy explains that he lies still in the darkness so he can hear the whistle and then his heart stops hurting.  The boy says: “the hands on the clock start moving.  The iron box begins to rise up, nice and slow, toward the surface of the sea.  And it’s all thanks to that little whistle, you see.  A whistle so faint I could barely hear it.  And the point is, I love you as deeply as that whistle” (4.)  When the panic fades and you begin breathing normally and it feels like you have been given a new lease on life.  Anything seems possible.  The boy believes that his love for this girl is equivalent of the lifting of panic from his body.  This extraordinary feeling shows the remarkable effect this girl must have on him.  I know how he feels.  When you love someone it is impossible not to think about them.  You cannot function without them in your life because they are a necessary function of your life.

It is difficult to explain how panic attacks work just as it is equally difficult to explain how love works, however because the two experiences are equivalent in the feeling of helplessness that you go through the boy is able to explain his love out of what is his darkest hour and the fact that he can do that shows how incredibly deep his love runs for this girl.  Love is the only emotion we have that can make any irrational idea seem perfectly reasoned.  When we love we not only give a piece of ourselves to another but we trust ourselves to be safe with that person.  We know that we are better off for them and that we will always be with them.  That is what love is – it is the overwhelming fear of being lost – and the immense joy of learning that the person you love can show you the way out.


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