In way that was strange but somehow deeply fitting for a Feast of Trumpets, there was a lot of resonance between the sorts of conversations and fellowship I had with the problem of deafness. As is often the case, I do not come at the subject of deafness merely as someone who observes it from the outside, however sympathetically, but rather as someone who deals with the problem as someone who struggles with aspects of it and thus finds in my own experiences and troubles as well as my observations a great deal of material to muse over.
We would do well to begin, when we talk about the problems that afflict people, that there are a great many different ways by which people reach the area of losing some part of their senses, to all of a sense. As is the case with blindness, some people are born deaf, some people become so as a result of disease or mishap, and still other people have conditions that afflict them part of the way to full deafness without reaching all of the way there. My own personal experience at least to date is in that last category, which is a common enough category of human being. Even among those who are at least part of the way to deafness, or hard of hearing as it may be termed, there are different gradations among these, and different ways that we judge among them, and even different ways that these problems may develop in our lives. Not everyone can hear that still small voice, but not everyone is to be blamed for that either, or for the natural repercussions that result.
I should note as well by way of context, that not only is deafness, at least in its partial form, something that I have long had to deal with, but also something that has long afflicted members of my family. I grew up in a family of big and loud people, and one had to speak loudly in order to be heard. Some people may ascribe that to a certain sort of desire for attention, but often it mundanely results from simply not being able to hear very well for one reason or another, and when one or a few people is loud as a result of hearing difficulties, the rest sort of have to do it in order to keep up with the conversation. In my late 20’s, after having a few months of a particularly rough case of tinnitus (something I deal with on an ongoing basis), I went to an ear-nose-and-throat specialist and had a particularly rough day including being asked if I had been a part of a rock band because of the extent of hearing loss that I had in my left ear, with no hint of any sort of device that would improve matters.
When one is interacting with people both at services as well as at a lovely picnic afterwards, I was able to encounter and experience a fairly broad range of deafness. We had a member join us who is deaf, entirely, and who communicates through American sign language, which alas I do not happen to know. His deafness is of the total kind. The rest of us so afflicted were of the partial kind. A friend of mine was there and happened to have his hearing aid in (perhaps not when around me). Another person I happened to know well and drive there also had the usual hearing loss that comes with advanced age. Even a couple of kids whom I know well exhibited some form of hearing loss, though largely of that selective loss that tends to allow people to hear only what they wish to hear and not attend themselves to anything that they do not want to hear, like being told that they cannot wade into a river because they lack dry clothes to change into and because it is uncomfortable to sit in damp clothes on long car rides before being able to shower and change.
It is deeply interesting to reflect upon the way that we judge different sorts of deafness. When we know people to be deaf or hard of hearing, especially if they acquire that deafness from disease or over the long course of a life well lived, we do not tend to judge them for it and we just deal with the consequences of it without attaching any sort of blame to it. If someone acquired their deafness from being a rock & roll musician, or thought someone’s deafness to be either of a moral nature by shutting one’s ears to what others were saying, or the result of reckless behavior, we are more likely to judge them harshly for it. Perhaps more unjustly, if we are not aware that someone is hard of hearing, we may see the repercussions of their hearing loss without properly ascribing it to the right causes. We may think someone a drama queen or someone who demands to be the center of attention when we are dealing with someone in other circumstances. We judge unwisely when we judge based on surface appearances and effects rather than seeking to examine causes in a thoughtful manner. Wisdom requires discernment and distinction of the kind that is frequently lost when we ourselves become unable to distinguish between shades and tones and simply rush to judge on that which we can recognize, as incomplete a picture or soundscape as it happens to be.