We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Daily archives for July 1st, 2017

A Tree. A Year.

Midsommar                                                                               Most Heat Moon

What was that?

Midsommar                                                                     Most Heat Moon

earThe hearing world (or, better, the not hearing world) in which I live. I’ve not written about this before, at least I don’t recall it if I have. It’s a profound disability, but invisible, often even to me. I’ll explain.

My left ear went deaf in my late 30’s. The hearing loss happened suddenly, over the period of about six months, and resulted in several visits to an ENT and an MRI to look for possible brain tumors. No brain tumors. No reason (maybe genetic), but my left ear was gone as a sense organ. Permanently. The heavy wings of mortality brushed against my soul, sending me into a temporary depression as I realized, again, that my body would eventually stop functioning altogether.

Not long after losing my hearing I visited Bogota, Colombia and while crossing a divided highway almost completed that thought. There were four lanes of traffic divided by a boulevard and I crossed the first two lanes, looking carefully to my left since I knew I could hear nothing on that side anymore. After walking across a wide space planted with trees, flowers and decorative shrubs, I came to the next two lanes, looked right, saw nothing and walked out into the road. And horns blared, brakes screeched. Jesus! What? Turns out in Bogota this set of four divided lanes all ran the same direction. I’d assumed otherwise, checked in only one direction, then gone ahead, confident I was fine.

deaf_in_one_ear_button_crib_sheet-r495cf41b36714c5e84d71dad0109ad27_x7j3i_8byvr_324This was an early and extreme instance of a situation I encounter daily. Since I don’t hear anything from my left, if some noise happens over there, for me it’s as if it doesn’t exist. And even now, over 30 year later, I still forget. I am much more cautious about crossing streets, fear will do that, but in other situations, the absence of noise is, of course, just that. It means even if it’s there, I don’t know it. Basic epistemology. If I can’t hear it, it doesn’t enter my world. What’s the sound of one person speaking to me, if I don’t know it? Silence.

Now having scooted past 70 this year, the hearing in my one good ear has begun to deteriorate. This time it seems to be plain age related decline, but it does create special demands. I increasingly find myself in situations where I can’t hear clearly at all. If there’s a fan or wind or a fountain or other people speaking, or I’m situated poorly, that is with my left ear in the general direction of conversation, it’s a strain to listen. Often, I simply can’t understand and have to just accept it.

In more intimate situations like home I can no longer understand if someone speaks to me from another room. Often, even in the same room, I don’t understand the first instance of someone speaking to me. Just ask Kate. This is maddening to others and frustrating to me, too. I get very tired of having to ask for a repeat, and others get tired of having to repeat themselves.

Yes, I have a hearing aid. Just one. It helps, sometimes. In quiet rooms, at home, in a space without other noise sources, the amplification makes a difference though it can’t compensate for frequencies I can no longer hear. If there is a wind, or a copy machine running (as there was this Thursday at mussar), then the amplification adds to the problem.

Recently, I’ve had another problem, too. An underwater sort of interference occurs at certain frequencies, rendering speech unintelligible, even if I can hear it. Doubly frustrating, as you might imagine.

Often I believe I’ve understood a conversation when in fact I haven’t. All of us with substantial hearing loss know the situation of being in a conversation, missing parts of it, scrambling to guess what was said and replying on the basis of that guess. A blank look, or even shock, clues us into a mistake.

A monk I met at a Benedectine Abbey in South Dakota, recounted the story of meeting a parishioner after a service. “I’ve just come from my sister’s funeral,” the parishioner said. “Oh, I’m so glad you had a chance to see her,” the monk said, smiling.

Hearing loss is a lesson in the fallibility of the human sensorium. We know it doesn’t pick up the whole electromagnetic spectrum visually, infrared and ultraviolet, for example, exist just outside our human visual faculty, yet they are real and always present. Hearing is the same with certain sounds being either too faint or too low or too high for our ears and auditory nerve to process. And in those cases we don’t find anything odd in our inability to sense them.

As hearing changes, though, we do think it’s odd, even somehow wrong, that we can no longer pick up sound that is, to others, clear and available. This is not something I spend much time thinking about on a daily basis. I go about my life, usually unaware, even for myself, that I’m not hearing things that others are. I mean, how could it be otherwise? That’s the epistemological riddle here. How can we be aware of that of which we are unaware?

I’m not saying this well, at least not as well as I want. I don’t feel disabled, yet I am. And often my disability is not apparent even to me. Until it is. This creates an odd world where I operate as a normal person, appear to be normal, yet am actually impaired. Often, perhaps most often, it’s of little consequence, but also often, it’s isolating, frustrating.



July 2017
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