I am losing my hearing. I am by no means deaf or close to it, but my world is getting a little bit quieter the older I get. When I was in my early twenties I finally went to doctor about the hearing impairment and was told I have degenerative hearing loss. When I asked what that means I was given the least assuring response a doctor could give, which amounted to a shrug (doctors should never ever do this) and was told he didn’t know why, it will get worse, it’s sensorineural (inner ear), and to wear earplugs anytime I am around loud noises.
The first signs of trouble with my hearing came to light in elementary school. Ever so often we would get pulled out of class and lined up with my classmates to get our hearing checked. Kindergarten this went okay. First grade it took more concentration to hear all the beeps. It was right around second grade that the audiologist administering the test started taking me to an isolated room to cut out any background noise. I was missing just enough of the beeps to cause mild alarm that I may have hearing issues.
Nowadays I dip just below the normal range and have lost my directional hearing at distances of more then a couple of yards. My hearing impairment isn’t currently debilitating, it’s mostly annoying and unpredictable. The unpredictability is the most vexing part. Suddenly I will wake up in the morning and it feels like my brain has turned down the volume just a notch. Sounds in my house will feel different, muffled and further away. Sometimes they’ll just be gone; the ticking of the Hello Kitty clock on the wall above my computer desk and the air movement out of the heating vent were two sounds that disappeared last year. Sometimes the loss will be stable for years and then it can suddenly accelerate. In the span of months more sounds will be gone or just quieter and just as suddenly as it started it will stop. A new normal will be established for years. The end result of all of this is I just never know what I will hear and creates a permanent state of impermanence.
Because of this impermanence, I treasure (almost) every sound I hear. Writing about this topic was inspired by two things: Leslie P’s lovely blog post “Appreciating the Ordinary” and that about four months ago my hearing range diminished again. I lost my ability to tell at a distance where a sound is coming from (which feels really weird, by the way), and these things got me thinking lately of how much I take the ordinary sounds of my day for granted. I started focusing on what sounds I love and what creates them. So when my world eventually goes silent I will still be able to look at something and remember. For reasons not completely known to me I feel driven to make them a shared experience. So in the spirit of sharing here are some of my ever changing, often overlooked and ordinary, favorite sounds:
- Sea gulls crying and the sound of surf hitting the beach.
- The clack clack clack of a Japanese bamboo fountain.
- Wind through poplar trees.
- A train whistle in the distance and the clank clank of a train close up coupled with the sound of the wheels on the rails and the hum of the engine.
- My friends’ and family’s laughter, especially the near hysterical can’t catch your breath due to extreme mirth variety.
- A rodent eating a sunflower seed.
- The low rumble of a bus accelerating.
- Shoes trudging through the snow.
- A sudden torrential downpour of rain.
- The smacking of bare feet on pavement, hardwood floors, or tile.
- The dial up tone of a fax machine or an old school modem.
- Fingers typing on a keyboard or a typewriter.
- The crinkling of cellophane.
- The zrhrzt of a record player needle makes when you touch it down to the record a little too hard.
- The creak and groan of trees in a forest as well as the ambient noises.
- The ticking of scrolling through content on an iPod.
- Raindrops falling on an umbrella.
This is just a small fraction of the list I am stowing away in my brain. I guess I want this to be a shared experience because I don’t want anyone else to take their senses for granted. I’ve encountered many people who are looking for a reprieve from noise. I don’t doubt the calming power of quiet, but total silence honestly scares me a little. It is said that silence is golden, but as a person staring down the barrel of that being my eventual reality as the years go by, I’ll take my silence then; for now I don’t want to miss a single noise.
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