People who are close to me—(I don’t mean close to me relationally, I mean, literally ‘close to me’)— know that I wear hearing aids. I wear them because, several months ago, my wife told me, in so many words, that I needed to have my hearing checked. It seemed to her that I wasn’t ‘hearing’ her very well. I told her I could hear her fine; I just couldn’t understand what she was saying.
And then, she said, “Yes, I know. Believe me, I know. Please get your hearing checked.” A few weeks after that, I did get my hearing tested, and — go figure — the doc said I needed hearing aids. People who get close to me, and look closely at the side of my head will see the tiny wire thingies coming out of both ears.
And this is how I came to wear hearing aids.
On the day of the hearing test, the doctor took his place in a control room, while he had me sit in an adjacent sound proof room about the size of a phone booth,. Tiny, it was. The doctor’s assistant squeezed in behind me as I sat in the chair and she placed a pair of earphones over my ears. They felt like ear muffs. Tight, and totally covering my ears. (People who are close to me know that if a headset totally covers my ears, the muffs will need to be the size of a pair of pie plates. I got big ears. But I digress.)
After the assistant left the room, I heard the doctor say, (in the headset, of course,) “Okay. Are you comfortable?”
I thought it was very nice of him to ask, and I said, “Yes, I’m quite comfortable, thank you.”
“Good,” he said. “I’m going to play some tones in your ears. Sometimes, you’ll hear tones in one ear or the other, sometimes, in both ears. But when you hear a tone, push the red button on the table in front of you.” For the next several minutes, I sat listening intently, and pushing that little red button every time I heard a tone. Sometimes, the tones were clear as a bell. Loud. Easy to identify. But some of those tones were softer than the tick of a watch. I had to strain to hear them. After two or three dozen pushes on the button, the doctor spoke again.
“That’s great. Now, I’m going to give you a series of pairs of words. I’ll say words like, ‘Snooze’ and ‘Lose’ and I want you to repeat them for me.” I said, “Okay,” and then the contest started. At first, it was so easy. He’d say, “Beat, heat,” and like the obedient patient I was, I’d say, “Beat, heat.” It was so easy, I hardly saw it as a test (or maybe heard it as a test.) But, (as tests often do,) things got more interesting as the pairs of words kept coming.
I mean, when he said, “Rib:fib,” I know I said it back to him perfectly. But sometimes, he just wouldn’t ‘speak up,’ if you know what I mean. He’d say, “Check,” and then another word. It was either ‘speck’ or ‘heck.’ Heck, man, I couldn’t distinguish which word he was saying. I leaned into the speaker that was right next to me, but it didn’t help. I finally asked him to repeat himself, and he said, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ And I said, “Well, could you just speak up a little bit,” and he said, “No, I can’t do that, either.”
And so, I’d guess.
When he said, “Bill, shrill” — or, “Bill, thrill” or “Bill, mill,” I couldn’t exactly tell — I’d just take a stab at it. But somehow, I knew. Deep in my heart. Deep in the recesses of my inner ear, I knew I was flunking that hearing test.
After I finished my lonely ordeal, I sat with the doctor in his office, (which was a lot roomier than the hearing test booth) and listened to him tell me about the results. I could understand him perfectly. He talked in a raised voice, as if he were talking to someone half deaf. “The results of your test are pretty conclusive. You’ve lost a considerable amount of hearing; you have a fifty-percent loss of hearing in both ears.” Alas, the reason he raised his voice as if I were about half deaf was that, well, I am about half deaf.
And that’s how I came to wear hearing aids.
Now, when my wife speaks, I can ‘hear’ every word she says. That still doesn’t mean, of course, that I ‘get’ every word. Sometimes, my batteries need to be changed in my hearing aids. And sometimes, sometimes I positively know she’s saying something. It’s just that I still can’t tell for certain whether she’s asking me how I like her new ‘dress,’ or asking me, ‘Who made this ‘mess?’ The other day, I could have sworn I heard her say, ‘Look at that hawk.’ Turns out, upon further clarification, that what she really said was, “We need to talk.”
I guess I’m glad I have to wear hearing aids. God knows I need them. (My wife knows I need them, too; she’s known I’ve needed them for years, but she was too sweet to say anything. At least, I don’t think she was saying anything.) I have come to appreciate the fact that in my married life (and in my spiritual life, too) the fact that I am aware I am being spoken to doesn’t necessarily mean I have a clue what’s actually being said.
Sometimes, I could swear I hear my wife asking me, “Are you comfortable?” And then, I say, “Yes, thank you. I’m very comfortable.”
And she says, “What did you think I said?” and when I tell her, she says, “That’s nothing like what I said. It doesn’t even rhyme! What I said was that I could use your help with the dishes.”
But that’s not the worst of it. Sometimes, I could swear I hear the voice of God — quiet, still, small — almost in a whisper, saying, “Are you comfortable?” And I say, “Yes. I’m very comfortable, thank you.”
And then, God says something after that. But I doubt very much if it has anything at all to do with how comfortable I am.