Under the heading of “counting your blessings”, one of mine is that I have excellent hearing. Sometimes it amazes even me. I once lost a stud earring, and anyone who wears earrings is familiar with the law that says you will eventually lose one of any pair of earrings. I think they go and hang out with the one sock that disappears from the dryer. But on this particular occasion, I was climbing into bed one night, with the TV on and the ceiling fan running, and I heard something fall from the foot of the bed to the carpet. Carpet, mind you–Think: “a thing which muffles sound”–and you guessed it, it was the earring.
I’m not sure why I have such good hearing. Part of it is no doubt genetic, and part of it is me training myself to listen intently. I think most of us lose hearing to some extent as we age, so I must have started out with superhuman hearing, since neither Led Zeppelin nor ZZ Top at full blast seem to have set me back much.
I’m especially grateful to have one top-notch ability since most of the others seem to be starting to take longer and longer naps. But having good hearing can also be a curse at times. It’s harder to filter out distractions.
Consider the following example: yesterday, I had an appointment with the opthamologist. Any time I have a wait longer than that I’m likely to experience in the 10 Items or Fewer checkout line, I always have a book, as I did yesterday at the opthamologist’s office. But when I arrived in the “dark” waiting room (yes, that’s what they call it–it’s an inner waiting room that is relatively dark, so as not to hurt your eyes after they’re dilated) it was absolutely jam-packed, which did not bode well for a quick conclusion of my visit.
This being my third visit, I’m a pro at picking the best seats in the dark waiting room. Some areas are darker than others, which I prefer. I also prefer the middle of the room, since at each end there’s a TV. One is tuned to Fox News, the other to MSNBC. So I guess you could say there is a conservative and a liberal wing of the waiting room. The final criteria is to get far enough away from other people that I can’t hear their conversations, and I can read my book in peace.
Alas, yesterday it was so crowded I could only fulfill one of my criteria: I managed to find a relatively dark seat, but it was directly underneath the MSNBC TV, and I was surrounded by people. A strange sort of intimacy develops between complete strangers in waiting rooms, which is kind of nice at times, but yesterday I was completely flustered by being unable to tune out all these competing conversations. I was on the verge of going postal. I was about to grab a bunch of magazines from the rack beside me, shove one at every talker, and say “Shut up already and read this magazine, or I’ll shine a flashlight in your face!”
I finally lost it at 3:00 P.M., when I’d been there 40 minutes, and I heard the following conversation:
Lady (to man beside her): So, how long have you been coming here?
Man: About 7 months.
Lady: That’s nothing–I’ve been coming here for 10 years.
Me (to self): No no no no no, I don’t need to hear this!
Lady: How long have you been here today?
Man: Since 11:00 A.M. (Four hours, in other words. That did it.)
Instead of the postal option, I chose Plan B, which was fumbling around in my voluminous handbag until I found the disposable earplugs that have been hanging around in there with the loose change and the tobacco crumbs since November when I went to see the Transiberian Orchestra. I can’t say that helped much. I could still hear every damn thing, it was just softer.
Still, it probably isn’t a good idea to complain about your blessings, and having good hearing is no small blessing. I just learned that a friend of mine was recently told by her hearing specialist that she is “losing her consonants”. This means that she can hear vowels well, but has to infer what the word is from the context. Therefore, if you change the subject during the course of a conversation, you have to alert her to it or she becomes lost. Certain words are more difficult than others, for example, the word “thief” because of the soft sounds of the “th” and the “f”, I’m guessing. It was already difficult for her to understand people with high-pitched voices, or those who don’t enunciate well. And this is occurring despite the fact that she is wearing the most advanced hearing aids available in both ears.
That’s a sobering thought, and reminds me to go back to the beginning and count my blessings. If it’s hell for me to be surrounded by people talking and be unable to tune them out, what kind of hell would it be to be surrounded by people talking but you can’t hear them? It’s odd how really difficult it is to be thankful for what you do have, rather than be unhappy about what you don’t have. It takes conscious effort. It might be helpful to remember that one day we will all travel to that mysterious realm where we will be rejoined with our odd socks and lost earrings.