Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Sailing to Byzantium

“I admit that twice two makes four is an excellent thing, but if we are to give everything its due, twice two makes five is sometimes a very charming thing too.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky Notes from the Underground

The Underground Man writes like an Enneagram Five; he observes Life from the safety of his solitary existence.  Sadly for him, he does not enjoy the view.  It fills him with contempt for his fellow humans and with even more contempt for himself.  Being a Five means living with an elevated level of consciousness, and sometimes, as the Underground Man says, too much consciousness is a disease.  (By the way, if that is true, I know some very healthy people.)

I also am a Five so I sympathize with the Underground Man, but I also think that being a Five is a “very charming thing too.”  It all depends on your perspective.   I picture myself on a sailing ship.  As it moves through the waters, I observe Life passing by.  On one side of the ship, there is sunlight and on the other side there are shadows.  I see things that are appealing and things that are appalling; depending on which side of the ship I stand.  People like the Underground Man spend the entire journey on the shadow side of the ship.  That’s why their observations bring them such misery.  I spend more time on the sunlit side, observing that which is great and glorious.

I started losing my hearing seventeen years ago.  It began with tinnitus in my left ear and then my right ear.  At first, it was the constant ringing in my ears that interfered with sound, but then, sound itself grew distorted and muffled.  I started wearing hearing aids five years ago to amplify sounds enough to compensate for the tinnitus and the distortion.  Yesterday, my hearing took a turn for the worse, and now, even with hearing aids, I can barely hear sounds and distinguish spoken words.  It is discouraging because it has increased my isolation from other people.  But it has made me thankful that I can still see–I still am an observer, sailing on my ship, only now I am the only passenger.

One of the odd things I have observed about my hearing loss is that the sounds I hear do not match what I see.  A wave crashes; I hear a splash.  The wind roars; I hear a whisper.  Someone shouts at me; I hear them from a distance, their voice barely carrying across the great divide.  On one side of the ship, I see a face distorted with hatred and rage, but I cannot hear the words.  That’s a good thing.  Instead of retreating to the other side of the ship, I can stay where I’m at and smile and wave.
It’s like how Merion, a deaf woman, explains it to a girl in The Book of Rhino.

“So do you ever miss it, hearing, I mean?” the girl asked.

“Some things I do.” The woman replied.  “I miss the trill of the lark but not the screech of the crow.  I miss the sound of cows lowing but not the bleating of sheep.  The chatter and gossip of busybodies, the curses and taunts of bullies, and the fawning flattery of sycophants I am pleased I no longer hear.  I miss hearing truth spoken in due season but do not miss the easy lie.  But above all, I miss the sound of my brother’s voice.  If there is anything I could give to hear his music, his tales, and his laughter, I would.  And what about you?  If you suddenly found yourself in a world of silence, what would you miss?”

The girl thought about it and then laughed.  “I think that I, too, would not miss the bleating of sheep.  I wonder why that is.  Certainly in the sheep’s opinion, they have a right to express their sheepish thoughts.  Their peculiar noises are no doubt pleasing to other sheep.  But sometimes they go about it so relentlessly.  Perhaps that is why I do not care for the sound; the bleating of sheep reminds me of people that make noise just to hear the sound of their own voice.  That is a sound I would gladly forego.  However, I would miss the sound of a friend’s voice.  The kind word, the tender endearment–these are pearls beyond price, even if the cost means having to listen to the bleating of sheep, both animal and human.”

The girl and the woman surveyed the pastoral scene before them in contentment.  At length, the girl turned to the woman.  “Not everything needs a spoken word; nonetheless, I am very glad that you allowed me to hear your voice.  Thank you, Merion.”

My mother is coming to visit today.  She can no longer see well enough to read and write; I can no longer hear will enough to understand what she says.  We will have to create another way to communicate.  I trust that Love will find a way beyond the written or spoken word.  I will bring my mother to the sunlit side of the ship, and together we will taste the salt air, smell the briny water, and feel the wind in our faces.

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