On the 7th, I wrote about hearing others’ problems without picking them up and carrying them with me. That led me to reinventing my ears altogether.
First, I have Meniere’s Syndrome, which causes a fluctuating deafness in my left ear. Lift your hand to your ear and rub your thumb across your finger. What do you hear? A gentle friction? Now try your other ear? Same? Different?
There are times that my left ear hears nothing. I don’t think much of it until I test my right ear and the sound is crisp, even loud. I like Husband to sit to my right in worship so I can hear his lovely voice. I like my family and friends to sit to my right around a table, at the movies, and everywhere else so that I don’t miss the conversation. I am far less likely to understand what you are saying if you are facing away from me or cover your mouth with your hand. I never hold the phone to my left ear. I catch some tones but not others.
In the place of ambient sounds of life, I have a ringing. Sometimes shrill, sometimes oceanic. Sometimes I forget it’s there. Sometimes I feel like I’d do anything to not hear the ringing. The ENT said that this is what deafness sounds like. That shocked me because I thought deafness was like a blank space, unsullied. I never thought deafness would sound like anything.
That’s odd because I’m very nearsighted. Without lenses, I can see only smears of colors. I’m not blind, legally or otherwise, but I would have a difficult time using only my eyes to get me through the world. I should have expected a similarly sliding scale for hearing.
Partial and fluctuating deafness has some perks. One is that I can lay in bed on my ‘good ear’ and pretend I’m alone in the world. I may not hear the alarm clock, though sometimes it breaks through as a strange clicking noise. I may not hear the kids or I may think they’re being rather quiet when, really, a Nerf war has ensued and taken over the house.
When I stopped drinking soda a few months ago, I gradually regained some hearing in my ‘bad ear’. The caffeine had not been kind to me. Today, I try the test above and I hear a faint rustle in my left ear contrasted with a prominent rustle in my right ear. Today, I have a constant school bell ringing in my left ear but quieter than it has sometimes been.
This is all a true parable for listening, of course. Do I set boundaries on what I hear from my spouse, my kids, my friends? Do I say, sorry, I couldn’t hear you? Or do I just excuse my lack of hearing? Do I hear some tones (complaining, for example) but not others (like need)?
Truth be told, there are some things my kids say that I’d rather not hear. But I already brokered that arrangement. I already told them they could say and ask anything. Eldest does so. He asks big questions. He asks about life and death and sex and justice and everything in between. Some days I want to pretend I don’t hear. I want to say, we’re not going to talk about that. I want to say, that’s my business.
Answering the big questions, the nosy questions, the questions I wouldn’t want him to ask anyone else – it can feel uncomfortable and set me on edge. I can flounder and always answer imperfectly. But I’ve already committed. I’ve already promised to hear him. I’ve already promised to receive his words.
In other realms of life, this can look different. I can turn off the news (actually I don’t watch news) and pretend the world is doing just fine. I can log off social media when the shouting, wailing, and mourning begins. I can be a selective hearer of my loved ones, my community, my world. I can lay on my ‘good ear’ and pretend there is no sound.
I’ve clomb (that’s Kentuckian past tense of climb) up out of this dark pit of depression only to see the often too-bright light and hear the regularly too-bright noise. I’m still working on modulating my senses to this new world. I fear the overwhelming tide might drag me back into the depths.
But I was given ears that hear and eyes that see. I don’t believe that was purposed only for self survival. I believe we are meant to be social creatures with sight and sound guiding us to action.
It’s a thing I continually work to improve. Hearing without drowning. Seeing without shuttering. I can’t control Meniere’s but I can manage it to a degree. I can neither control nor manage the world, but I can remain in it, working with others, hearing and seeing and being. Reinvention begins with me.