Thursday, January 31, 2013

Listening By Half

            For a week or so I've only been half-hearing things. This is because one of my ears, the left one, periodically gets stopped up with earwax, and my efforts to unclog it invariably fail wetly.
            These efforts are not very aggressive because I fear like death the possibility of puncturing an eardrum with too pointed a clearing effort. So, following the instructions on the box, I squirt some water into my ear canal through a fat plastic hypodermic-like arrangement, a kind of squeegee in reverse, sucking up water into the tube and then pushing it into the canal, which for the above reasons I'm not even sure is a good idea.
            What if some of the water actually made it through the canal and flowed inward. Couldn't that lead to water on the brain? (Don't sailing or surfing or kayak enthusiasts, for instance, have "water on the brain"?)
            So not surprisingly, these efforts fail and I go about half-hearing the world. Does this make me vulnerable to one-sided arguments? Am I more polarized than usual? When I listen for the deeper song, am I missing half the notes? When I make certain that as we are walking down the sidewalk my wife walks on my right side so that I have some possibility of taking in her shrewd commentaries and apposite observations, am I assigning her "right-hand" status, a lordly prerogative (according to the Episcopal Nicean Creed I memorized as a child) that I doubt I am entitled to? Does this make her my right-hand woman?
            It is puzzling that the ear in which I am prone to losing my hearing, for hopefully brief periods, is always the left one. As anyone who knows me can attest, I am passionately attached to voices from the left. I cannot say for sure what tomorrow's issue will be, but I can already tell you I'll be listening to the left.
            Only I'll be hearing it from the right ear.
            One way to correct this imbalance,  I suppose, is to take a hard look at myself in the mirror. Matter will smartly re-arrange themselves there so that my left ear is on right -- a principle I know to be true but don't really understand. So if I spend half a day in front of a mirror, will that balance out my one-sided hearing? However, I have always suspected the mirrors are distorting the truth, or at least lying to us a little.
            So I resign myself to hearing only one half of what's going on out there. If I heard any more -- on, for instance, subjects like gun violence: if I were forced to take in all the sound and fury from those defending their god-given right to own machine guns -- I would probably want to shoot myself in the head. Then both ears would be equally useless.
            I can only take in so much. It's not really much of a relief, most of sound and fury does force itself into the one working ear, but sometimes it's a little more peaceful. I go into that slack-faced neutral state of mind you sometimes notice on people when they are "tuning you out." I tell myself I am compensating by "tuning in" to my inner life.
            But then we try to watch something British on TV and I find myself querying, annoyingly often, "What did he say?"
            And so, in the end, I take myself, as I must, to the great clearer of ears, that goddess of sound in the nurse practitioner's office who has remedied my halfway status in the past. When she pours the water, somehow it goes where it needs to and the waxy barriers inside my ear canal crumble. Last time we got together around the subject of my left ear, I recall, it took twenty-four dosings, a stunningly protracted siege, before victory was finally declared.
            This time -- what did I do to deserve such good fortune? -- only three.
            Then she says, "Now let's do the other. As I always say, you can't just change one headlight."
            So now I'm a car.
            Happily, the other "headlight" clears up after only a couple of dosings.
            Later, lying on my couch in "vacant or in pensive mood," I realize how lucky I am to be hearing, period. The wind blows. I hear it.
            After last week's single digit temperatures...,
            The roar of the wind sounds like... spring.