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Wednesday, 27 February 2008 00:00

Tuning in once again

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The Sweetest Sounds

The sweetest sounds I’ll ever hear

Are still inside my head.

The kindest words I’ll ever know

Are waiting to be said.

— Rogers and Hart

 

Over the past 40 years, as my hearing has steadily declined, most of my friends became accustomed to my evasive behavior. Instead of saying, “I can’t hear you,” I developed a habit of nodding, smiling and saying, “Yes.”

To me, it seemed the considerate thing to do. Rather than inconvenience people by launching a lengthy dialogue that consisted mostly of me saying, ‘What?” Then, “Tell me again!” and finally “Would you write that down, please?” Frequently, after all the trouble, I would find that my questioner had been forced to write down a pleasantry such as “Doing OK, are you?” or “Good to see you!” All of that bother for a revelation that turned out to be of no great importance. It seemed easier to simply nod and say “Yes.” I found that I could go a long way with that little deception. However, I must admit, there are times when a smile and a “Yes” can cause you some embarrassment.

One of the biggest casualties of deafness is friendship. Inevitably, people begin to avoid you. A potential discussion is viewed as either too time-consuming or too arduous. Again, it seems best to stay quiet and smile a lot.

Along with a growing sense of isolation, most deaf people whose loss is progressive are keenly aware of their “accumulative loss” (mine has progressed from 50 percent to 90 percent in the last 20 years). I distinctly remember the first time I missed crickets and a multitude of other peepers and croakers. The birds went quickly, too, along with the sounds of wind, rain and the click of the turn signal on my car. At times, there was a definite feeling of being abandoned, not just by people, but by Nat “King” Cole, Nina Simone, Merle Haggard, clarinets, car horns and all of Beethoven’s symphonies. The last to go were Orson Welles, Garrison Keillor and James Earl Jones.

Sometimes, when I sit on my porch at night, listening to the pervasive silence, I have developed a habit of fantasizing about all of my lost sounds. I pretend that everything simply “migrated.” All of my vanished sounds aren’t extinguished, but merely “relocated” to an island somewhere in the South Seas. All of my peepers and croakers, my cat birds and ravens have taken refuge on an island covered with lush vegetation where they are chirping, thumping and singing. Nina, Nat and Merle take turns singing in the moonlight and Beethoven’s 5th thunders while Orson, Garrison and James Earl take turns reading the Rubiayat aloud. Sounds like pandemonium, doesn’t it ... but no, not on this island. Everything functions in fanciful order.

Well, things are about to change. All of my lost sounds may be coming home! Due to the wonders of modern science, a cunning little device (a cochlear implant) is now embedded in the flesh above my right ear. The surgeon at Chapel Hill (Dr. Pillsbury) has told me that he will not “activate” this marvel for a little while yet. After that, it will have to be “tuned” (everything sounds like the chipmunks jabbering at first) and slowly, sounds will emerge ... music, frogs and thunder. Yes, dear readers, soon my crickets will take flight and the sky will darken as all of my birds come home. All of those singers will book passage to Rhodes Cove (Nina is going to sing “I Put A Spell On You”) and my baritone speakers, Orson, James Earl and Garrison, will arrive on my porch quoting Shakespearean sonnets. They are coming.

Stay tuned.

(Gary Carden is a writer and storyteller who lives in Sylva. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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