My dad was hard of hearing. He was robbed of a sensitivity to sound. Most of my life, I remember his struggle to comprehend the things that were said in his presence. Regrettably, because of the pitch of my voice in later years, he could barely understand anything I said even if I shouted. He was frustrated. I was frustrated.
Over time, a more frustrating condition emerged. Living with a diminished sensitivity to conversation, his mind was trained to believe that he couldn’t hear.
That frustrated me, too, because I wanted to have rich talks with my father. He wasn’t a man of many words. He was wise and kind and practical. I’d give anything to sit with him now, ask questions, and hear how his life was shaped by his faith and his love for people. I’m grateful because, in this case, his actions did speak more loudly than his words. I am blessed by my witness to his life.
I understand his world more now. I’m hard of hearing. Loud music and drumming in my early years left me with tinnitus and some hearing impairment. Having technological assistance in hearing has been a wonderful blessing and a great curse. I can hear better in most settings. In others, I cringe. I’ve never liked crowds and loud events. Now, being at a concert, a sports event, or, sometimes, even at church, creates an anxiety that is difficult to handle. That, plus the fact that the hearing aids, despite the valiant efforts of my audiologist, don’t fit well and are uncomfortable, leads me to remove them.
And in those times, the strong voice I can hear is that of my mind telling me that I cannot hear. That can be a comfortable world. For the most part, I choose not to ask people to repeat what they’ve said. I just move on without knowing.
I don’t think that my situation is simply one of physical limitation. I know people who live with significant hearing impairment. And they choose to engage. Even in the throes of silence, they hear. Some do it with presence and patience. Others grapple with their condition with outspoken boldness.
Whether blessed with good hearing or not, we live in a world of rich noises and communication. At times symphonic and at times cacophonic, the swirling pulse of words and music and collision and gentle rustling is Creation’s desire to bring understanding and peace. When we become purposefully deaf, we turn our back on the blessing of community with all around us.
Many of us lament earlier days where harmony was not just a melodic ideal but a benchmark for community. We are saddened by the rhetoric of our leaders and the hardness of hearing and heart of our neighbors. We find ourselves drawn to our own quiet places where the only voices and sounds we hear are the ones that echo our own. We choose not to listen.
As a result, we find it simpler to choose not to speak.
Withdrawing from the world of sound, either as a result of our sensitivity or insensitivity robs us of the unique blessing of sharing. It’s easier. But it cancels our contribution to the greater good. Speak. Contribute. Make some music.