Everything’s going to be fine. I say that. It is never true. Everything cannot be fine in this universe of multiple dizzying times and places. My imagination is overwhelmed by the hidden lives behind every lit window, behind every bus window, inside every massive high rise; far from the madding crowd, living their lives in quiet desperation. Why madding? Why not maddening? So I drag out my Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary, the one I bought while I lived in Taiwan back in the late 70’s, proud and thrilled to own such a big thorough book, the one where intellectual property was gleefully ignored, wow, it has a Full Color World Atlas, I’ve been looking for one of those, I used to have a big one on my dorm walls, something I can trace my finger on, not like the fleeting images of Google Maps, but I don’t have time for that this morning, and I find the word and my unabridged dictionary says: “Madding: adjective, mad, acting madly or senselessly, frenzied”. Hunh, and I thought the poet that penned these words made the word up. Oh wait, maybe it was not a poet, was it a novel? So, I get the Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations book that I have had for many years, and in the front page, in my mother’s handwriting is: “To Joe, I can’t think of an appropriate quote! Devotedly, Patricia”, and oh my Gaia, it smells like our front rooms, all of them, a hint of menthol and tobacco, the faint mold scent from Miami, where our Encyclopedias sat on the floor, the ones at the end of the alphabet anyway, because the shelves were made of plywood and ash bricks, and I pause. Then I flip the pages and find out who said this and I’ll tell you, because I bet you are wondering by now: it was Thomas Gray, and the whole stanza is: “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife (and aren’t all madding crowds ignoble?) Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray (but what about their drunken wishes?) Along the cool sequestered vale of life, they kept the noiseless tenor of their way” and WOW, that is exactly what I was thinking – the noiseless tenor – of all the men and women and children whom we see but don’t notice, faces blurred as the vehicle passes, the ones they are in, or the one I am driving, every line, every queue, as most of the world calls these snaking lines, and why do Americans have to queue up and wait for hours to vote? Ask the Madding Crowd whose ignoble strife is based upon lies, perhaps they will lay down their arms to answer, most likely, they had never trod the cool sequestered vale of life, I have, and it is filled with ferns and insights. Before closing the Bartlett’s I inhale deeply the scent of Mom and Dad, and take in, through my nose, the noiseless tenor of their precious lives.