I spent three days this summer not hearing. This is the dangerous thing I had done: dip my head back to wash my hair in the bathtub.
For three days my right ear received no sound waves, but many ministrations: hydrogen peroxide, sweet oil, rubbing alcohol.
When something isn’t working, I can’t let it alone. Tell me the yoga to do. Hand me the store brand. Google again. Slightly different terms now.
Fifteen minutes with solution in ear. Half a “Seinfeld” episode. Head to other side. Out, out!
It was three days, fifteen tries, the hardcore squirter thing to rinse, before I was hearing again.
Gospel today was Jesus healing the deaf man, with Jesus’ magic spit. Saints today were Thomas Gallaudet and his student who became the first deaf priest in the Episcopal church.
I can’t hear what’s coming.
Before I left Kansas City again, my dad and I sat at a pizza place, and he said, “You remember I used to tell you to climb up on a jungle gym and then jump into my arms? And then I would tell you to climb a little higher and jump again?”
“No,” I said, but clearly his brainwashing worked. I jumped back to New York without an idea of how I would be caught.
Not deaf to endless speculations of why this had not already worked out, what had I done wrong that my work life has become so unstable and difficult after ten years. My work has brought me so much stability, so much wisdom, and I feel so satisfied with how it has let me use what I know and what I have. But the last part of it has been so hard, hard in ways that seem less productive than the difficulties of your first years teaching.
Thanks to a particular episode of “Girls,” I was able to refrain from getting too aggressive with the q-tips. I listened to the hydrogen peroxide snapping and bubbling.
It’s not true that wanting something enough, or working hard enough for it, or wishing, gives it to you. All of my favorite narratives are about failure, though: “American Beauty,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” Gatsby, Job. And it’s most of what I write about.
Multiple episodes of “Six Feet Under” have been helpful to me in this. I couldn’t watch it the first time I tried, seeing how every episode began with someone dying, I could not handle that, how depressing. Now it doesn’t depress me, it is softly true. People who are in the trenches with death tell stories that are just a little more honest about how days come and go, no matter how hard we try to pretend they line up and connect and everything we see is expected.
And it’s not true that giving up on something, letting go, can be done in a moment, one fell swoop, but is a lifetime project to be returned to.
Eventually, yes, I could hear.
Image: Whip Handle in the Shape of a Horse, ca. 1390-1353 BCE, Metropolitan Museum of Art.