I complain a lot about my Gnostic distaste for my body, I know, groaningly accepting this mortal bone house shambling toward decay. I think I’ve also mentioned how humorous I find it, then, that I adhere to this faith system and this particular corner of this faith system that is so very earthy and physical, that champions a God Who was killed (briefly) after a meal between friends.
So I’ve been very preoccupied with the physical this week because I’ve been trial-running a hearing aid. Ugh.
Never mind the fact that I’m super angry that, at my age, this is a thing for me. (To which comes all of the conversations and monologues I don’t want to have about what I mean by this indignation—is the body not allowed to decay before a certain time? What does that say about the way I regard my older friends with hearing aids? How about people who are born with the need to have them or get them as kids because of some unfortunate accident or illness? Do I label them by age? And what am I considering in “age”? Does it change how I react to someone if s/he is substantially older than I? That can’t be right, as nearly all of my friends are at least a couple of decades ahead of me and it drives me nuts when they call the age gap to attention, but am I not doing that when I cling to youth as a reason not to have to deal with this?) What I’ve been so terribly aware of has been mechanics.
Mechanics: science is amazing. That’s a thing, and I can say that even though I was terrible at science in school and can’t be bothered to get better at it as an adult. I can still marvel at what human beings decide to accomplish. This hearing aid—it’s roughly the size of a nickel, and that part holds the battery, microphones (two), and wireless technology so as to be able to “talk” to the computer in my audiologist’s office that programs it. Then there’s a clear wire no thicker than spaghetti connected to an earpiece a little smaller than a dime that sits snugly in my ear canal such that, when the whole shebang is in, you can’t see it until you know what you’re looking for. And that’s not even the smallest model this company (Phonak) makes! The whole unit not only fits in my hand, but could comfortably have a party with at least six of its brethren before they got even a little difficult to hold.
I find that incredible, especially having grown up with grandparents who had hearing aids for extreme hearing loss, great big dollar-coin-sized monstrosities snaking down to wax molds that totally covered the ear opening, plastic contraptions that squealed and chirped at all the times calculated to be most embarrassing to pre-teens.
Not that this doesn’t chirp or squeal. It does—and also vents, large enclosed spaces like parking lots, and fountain noices are hell with this. This is partly because hearing aids change both how and what you hear. Since the unit with the microphones sits on top of your ear, you no longer hear out but up. Try it: snap your fingers right next to your ear. Now snap your fingers just above your head. When I’m wearing this, those are two different sounds just like they are with you, except reversed. The snap close to my ear is now less easy to hear because there’s a dime-sized plug in my head (and I feel it. It doesn’t hurt, now that my ear has kind of gotten used to it and I’ve learned to put it in properly, but I am definitely aware of it as you would be of any foreign unit shoved into your ear). But ambient noise? ALL THE AMBIENT NOISE, because wearing this aid has essentially been like wearing a lapel mic on my head—and anyone who’s ever been to a conference or a sermon knows that that thing picks up all manner of sounds other than the person’s voice. Yes, I have the power to turn down the volume, but that means that I’m also turning down the ability to catch the voices themselves of other people—which, as a friend pointed out last night, is fantastic for me as an introvert that I get to turn people “off,” but it does become a choice of weeding out random sounds so I can pick up the specific sounds I was having a hard time hearing anyway.
It’s been a tiring week, because believe it or not this kind of adjustment takes a lot of energy. I’m really pleased people have been pretty mellow about it and patient with me as I’ve been trying to work with and around it. It helps that most people don’t even know I’ve had it, since it’s pretty invisible. But it’s been very instructive, to me, in both what I’ve lost and what I still have.
This trial is not permanent for me; my hearing loss isn’t severe enough that I would really merit it, but also I have decided I don’t need it and its downsides right now, regardless of what other choice I decide to make in the future health of that ear. But it is an incredible thing to hear in stereo the keys clicking as I type, to hear birds chirping on my left side, to hear envelopes scraping across each other as I sort office documents. To hear is such a marvelous and exhausting thing, binding together the incredible noisiness of the world. As I approach the probability of yet another surgery to repair the 30% of my eardrum that’s missing, I’m very aware that someday I will have to have this. That frustrates me, a lot, but it also pushes me into the compassion born of understanding for the friends I have now who are dealing with this, and with parishoners in the future who will deal with this.
I may also have to start being nicer to my grandmother. It’s not really her fault she squeals.
He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 11:15, RHE)