The Blessing of Hearing Loss

Having just returned from a wedding in Germany, I was sure my contribution to the SWC weblog would again be about travel, but it turns out my thoughts have focused more on returning home and all that I’m thankful for…

I was a bit jet-lagged and tired after a long flight from Amsterdam to Boston and a two week trip to the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany, and catching up on sleep Saturday left me wide awake at 3:30am this past Sunday morning, so I decided to do some more catching up on what all I had missed on facebook and email. The first thing I read on facebook was an entry by an old school friend, David Nutt, who is a musician and vocalist who plays as much as he can to make a living, in support of causes he’s passionate about, and probably just for the love of it.  David wrote “What a great…but long day. Good people, a good cause, and it may sound a bit self absorbed, but my vocals were at the top of their game. I’m glad I had the chance to share it. Any singer/vocalist knows what I’m talking about. Hope you had a most excellent day as well.” Yeah, life is good!… I just couldn’t stop smiling after reading Dave’s comment and pressed “like”.

Next, I answered a few emails and commented on a few facebook posts before the old caffeine craving took hold, so I closed down the windows I had open and snuck out past my son asleep on the futon in the living room, into the quiet morning of Salem, MA for my coffee fix. I was surprised to see only two other people on the street as I walked to the coffee house, but upon arrival I discovered Jaho didn’t open until 8:00am on a Sunday, explaining the nearly deserted streets. What first appeared a misfortune–the late opening of the place where I was hoping to satisfy my craving–turned out to be a blessing, as I walked further along to A & J King Bakery, a local Artisan Bakery, and found that they opened at 7:00am and I could enjoy some fresh baked goods along with my morning coffee.  There’s nothing like standing on the street waiting for a bakery to open, and as I stood there, I enjoying the sights and smells around me… a scene from the movie “As Good as it Gets” played in my head…

Melvin: “Let’s take a walk.” Carol: “It’s four in the morning. A walk sounds a little screwy to me. – If you don’t mind.” Melvin: “Well, if you need an excuse… There’s a bakery on the corner that’ll be open soon. That way we’re not screwy, but two people that like warm rolls.”

I stepped inside the bakery as the door was unlocked for the day’s business.

Sitting with my danish and coffee, I continued to ‘catch up’ on my iPhone, and went to a photo sharing site that my niece created to share pictures of her daughter.  Scanning through the photos, looking at the latest pictures of my sister and her husband, and my niece and her husband and their year-and-a-half-old daughter, on their recent trip to the beach, I was struck with the feeling of how lucky I am to have so many wonderful things and people to come home to.  My family, my sister’s family, my friends, my country, and the places (Salem among them) that make my heart swell with pleasure.

As I walked back to my son’s apartment, Dave’s facebook comment floated back into my thoughts and I felt compelled to comment on what he had written, as I wanted him to know how much his sharing his “great, but long day” had added to the pleasure of my day. I also wanted to tell him that he, and other musicians, make the inability to hear music much less of a tragedy for me, and that I even felt a bit of what he described as “self absorbed” in appreciating my own awareness of ‘all’ that something can be.  Live music is so much more than just sound, and it’s possible I wouldn’t be tuned into that fact, to the extent that I am, without the experience of hearing loss.  No, I’m not thankful for my hearing loss, but I am thankful for all that I’ve learned because of it… that’s the blessing of hearing loss.

Dear Dave,

One of the saddest losses I’ve experienced as a result of losing my hearing is music.  There are places in the heart and soul that can only be touched by “the artistic arrangement of sounds in time so as to produce a continuous, unified, and evocative composition, as through melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre.”–thank you very much, free online dictionary!

Dave, you never need to feel “self absorbed” when appreciating the joy that must come with having your “vocals at the top of their game”, and I so wish I could have been there to share in it.  You might wonder how that would have been possible since I just stated that music is among my most grievous losses?  That’s where the blessing of losing one’s hearing comes in… without the luxury of being able to take your senses for granted, those of us who have lost our hearing are forced, sometimes kicking and screaming, to learn to enjoy things in other ways–to focus on ‘all’ that something is.  Granted, hearing people are sometimes in tune enough to recognize that same ‘all’, but often awareness stops at the predominant sense being used to take in an experience.

I have well-meaning, hearing, people in my life who are aware of the extent that I cannot hear, of the struggle it can cause, and the sadness I, on occasion, feel due to that fact, and sometimes I am not invited to concerts or included socially when they perceive that my lack of hearing will be an issue.  While I know they are trying to be sensitive and to make me feel better, it only serves to make me feel worse… I love them anyway. What they fail to realize is that I’ve learned to enjoy watching what I cannot hear, music most especially.  Granted, I still can hear and feel a drum beat and some of the low tones of the guitar and other instruments are dicernable, but usually, unless I know what I’m listening to, I have a hard time following what a song is, as it sounds distorted. However, if I know what is being played and am familiar with a song, my brain adds what it remembers and sometimes I can experience music as if I had my hearing back again, but that’s really just the miraculous and wonderful ability of the brain to fill in the blanks left by hearing loss.

New music is out for me, as I can’t hear it, my brain has no memory of it, and it sounds like listening to a music box where most of the tines have been broken off.  It’s possible for me to hear the “click, click, click” of the tines as they strike the drum of the music box, but only every fifth, sixth, or seventh note is recognizable.  Most music has ceased to be that “artistic arrangement of sounds in time” and is just noise… “click, click, click, click, click, ping, click, click, click…”  Many a tear has been shed (usually when I’m wallowing in that place of self-pity) over this reality, but what is cool about ‘live’ music is that the player/vocalist brings more than sound to the experience.  I can feel live music in ways that I can’t with recorded music, and when a player/vocalist adds his/her love of making their music, whether just playing, or playing and singing, it rounds out the experience for those of us who cannot hear the sound of the music fully.  I’m sure that I would have been able to share in your “top of their game vocals” as I would have been able to see and feel ‘all’ that you put into your music, not just the sound.  It’s not only those fellow singers/vocalists that know what you’re talking about, sometimes even those of us who can’t hear the music know what you’re talking about, for we have the heightened perception to look on and see and feel what others hear.  I’m very thankful for that ability.

May you have many excellent days ahead, and I just wanted to let you know that you contributed in making my day a most excellent one as well!

Your friend,

0 thoughts on “The Blessing of Hearing Loss

  1. Michele, I know just what you mean. I still go to concerts even though I hear probably less than half of the music being played. I was just thinking yesterday about how hearing loss hasn’t stopped me from enjoying life. While on vacation here, I’ve been snorkeling, hiking, gone kayaking and today we’re going up in a helicopter. You don’t need good hearing to do any of those things. I often miss playing the piano, but other activities have taken its place over time. Overall I feel fortunate in my life. One of the greatest benefits of hearing loss is being part of a community of the SWC and hearing loss community. I wouldn’t have met you or Jan if I had not lost my hearing. 🙂

  2. Hi Kim,

    I do better with live music in smaller settings… Bluegrass night at Sir Bens (a small pub), or a live band at The Amazing Grace, both in downtown Duluth, MN. I never was a big concert goer even when I had better hearing, but I’ve been to see Neil Young several times and Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers were awesome!!

    I think there are a lot of us out there, Kim… those who don’t let hearing loss keep them from enjoying life. Like you, I snorkel, kayak, hike, and on my recent trip to Europe I spent several days traveling throughout Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands solo. I had a eurail pass, traveled by train between countries, and even backpacked a couple of days, staying at hostels. A few people mentioned how “brave” I am, but in truth I’m not brave at all, I’m just me–the person I’ve always been–and I think maybe that is the key for anyone that faces a challenge or change in their life… they just have to find ways to keep doing what they want to do. Some things are a little more work when you can’t hear, but as you said, most things don’t require “good hearing”, only a willingness to keep doing them.

    I too feel very fortunate in my life, though I’ve had my moments of isolation and wanting to hold back because of my hearing loss. Luckily, those moments taught me things and brought people or circumstances into my life that are a positive. The SayWhatClub is very high on that list, and it’s the members, you included, who make SWC such a good place to find support, understanding, and others who know exactly what you mean when you talk about how hearing loss impacts your life.

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject. I’ve struggled with fluctuations in my hearing over the last year (misdiagnosis? ~ it’s been a battle) so I have gone from being full-hearing in one ear to having to lip-read at times. My greatest grief has been the loss of music and not being able to understand what my young children express to me.

  4. Maureen,

    You are welcome! Hearing loss sure is a struggle… though what we learn in the struggle is invaluable, it doesn’t take away the sadness and pain of losing music and understanding young children, or any of the other losses that tug at our heart strings. For me, those two things–music and children’s voices–were/are my saddest losses. My grand-niece (20 months old) is talking up a storm and I can’t hear what she is saying unless I happen to see her lips or am turned just so… everyone is very helpful to tell me what she is saying–she comes up with the cutest things–but I’m hoping one day to be able to hear her myself, as I’m considering Cochlear Implants.

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