by Andy Weddington
Friday, 09 December 2011
"Seeing, hearing, and feeling are miracles, and each part and tag of me is a miracle." Walt Whitman
It's not yet 0500. It's dark. The house still and quiet but not absolutely dead silent. While sitting here alone and thinking and preparing today's Commentary I hear...
the coffee machine, in the kitchen some 30 paces away, gurgling last draws of water; outside, a climate control unit engage; inside, warm air flowing through a nearby overhead exchange; a ticking battery operated clock; a bird with a shrill call that sounds excited--perhaps feeling frisky or a predator is nearby; a dog, far away, barking; a pack of coyotes yelping; the clicking keys of my wireless keyboard; a few high-pitched tones alerting brewing complete; and through it all, always in the background riding atop, the sound of crickets--tinnitus; that's loudest when it's quiet.
We just returned from a few days in San Antonio, Texas. While there, in no particular order, I heard...
the sounds of rain--drops striking the earth and manmade things, windshield wipers swiping glass, and tires splashing puddles; meat sizzling on an open flame grill; wax butcher paper torn from a big roll; a guy called a "cutter" slicing lean brisket, turkey, and sausage on a chopping block; a cashier thanking me and my wife for our military service and extending a nice discount; ice tumbling from a chute into a cup and pouring sweet tea settling the cubes; electronic tones and music at the gas pump; a waitress describe a favored red ale; a stranger kindly ask in a Texas drawl, "Where ya'll from?";
our National Anthem sung acappella; a Sailor reenlisting repeat an oath and swear to protect and defend America, and an officer being promoted swear to the same; a departing commanding officer thank Sailors (and families) for their work and sacrifices; a man remark to me, "They didn't stand a chance, they were simply outnumbered and overrun" while looking at a miniature figurine tabletop display of the famous Alamo battle; the hotel manager ask if we enjoyed our stay (we sure did); a waiter at 'Boudros' on the riverwalk ask if I'd like another beer and if there was room for dessert (no to both); the hustle and bustle of people walking and cars and busses and signals controlling all the traffic ticking, clicking, and counting; the electronic crystal ring of a bell as iPhone announces someone cares--an incoming message; and in the background riding atop all the sounds--crickets.
At the airport I heard...
a rental car shuttlebus manager wish travelers "Merry Christmas"; a helpful ticket agent apologize for taking so long to solve a seating glitch; a TSA agent inspecting IDs and boarding passes thank me for my service; another TSA agent loudly repeat scripted advisory about what to take off before entering the full-body scan; the clickety-clack of roller bag wheels; strangers amidst cell phone conversations; cart drivers bellowing "Excuuuuuuse the cart"; a baby crying; a child fussing; a couple arguing--with civility; high heels; a quarter hit the deck; and a father, on the phone, tell his son what a big boy he was and he'd be home soon; Christmas music;
announcements warning to not leave bags unattended and gate changes; cable news on TV monitors; a mother telling her teenage son he needs a haircut (he did); giggling pre-teen girls; a couple of businessmen discussing a contract negotiation; an older woman seated at the gate talking to herself and her husband snoring; a few soldiers in uniform agreeing it was great to be home; a team of high school boys horsing around; a little girl of four or five asking her father when Santa Claus was coming; and in the background riding atop all the sounds--crickets.
Home a day or two, I've heard...
passing cars; a friend say, "Welcome home"; a letter opener rip through sealed envelopes; a neighbor's barking dogs; the clicking ignitor on our gas range; boiling water; the microwave beep; the bed creak; the ice-maker drop cubes and refill; my wife (some 3,000 miles away), over a cell phone, say, "I'm tired. I miss you. I love you. I am crawling between the sheets. Good night."; and in the background riding atop all the sounds--crickets.
What's the big deal? Ho hum. Why the sounds?
Last week my wife told me she reconnected, on Facebook, with a friend from long ago. After losing touch decades ago he'd lost his hearing--to disease, I think. I have been thinking about his story. I have been thinking about silence. And I have been thinking about hearing--our wonderful sense of hearing.
Years and years and years of silence, thanks to technology and amazing medicine, my wife's friend's hearing was recently restored. He'd posted how chaotic and confusing all the sounds--but how wonderful they were.
He commented about some of the more amazing sounds...
his wife's voice and laugh; the fizzing of soda slowly poured over ice; and that while watching TV in his basement he could hear the faint sound of a barking dog somewhere in the neighborhood.
Initially confused by so much noise flooding in, internal filters are beginning to sort and prioritize sounds. Eventually, like us all, he'll realize a 'norm'--so much to be heard with some to be ignored, automatically, if only because, at the moment, the sound is only noise and does not matter.
For him, a world, once known, is returning. And yet a whole new world of sounds, never known because they did not exist when he had hearing, is being discovered. What a Christmas gift! I cannot help but wonder if the new sounds marry up with the visual images. That is, do the sounds make intuitive sense or must they be learned/associated with the images? What a problem to have.
Can you imagine a world of silence?
Absolute dead silence?
Even the most annoying of sounds...
a beginner on the clarinet or violin or accordian or drums; rap "music"; thumping, penetrating bass from a car stereo; "Press 1 for English"; "All of our representatives are busy. Please hold, your business is important to us"; and the noise of bloviating, arguing politicians--a bitter sweet sound of freedom; are tolerable.
Do you hear what I hear?
Of course not.
But you hear. And be grateful to hear--a wonder, a miracle, most folks don't pause to consider much less think about.
So pause a moment or two--daily. At home. At work. At play. Turn off the TV, radio, stereo, iPod, cell phone and close your eyes and listen--closely. Relax but strain--to hear what you may have been missing all along.
What do you hear that you've never really heard before?
As for absolute dead silence, no thank you.
Yet I'll settle for relative peace and quiet once in a while. If only to close my eyes and listen--closely.
And ever happy to tolerate the damn crickets.
We have family that took a new baby home this week--after a month in the hospital fighting and conquering the hurdles of being a preemie. I suspect that baby's noises--crying and all--are the sweetest sounds that couple has ever heard; their happy home alive.
While wrapping up these words I phoned home. Nice to hear your voices, Mom and Dad. Really nice to hear your voices.