There is a constant ringing in my ears. It’s been my companion for as long as I can remember. Seriously. You know the chirping of cicadas? Or, the irritating scratchy squeal of feedback in a sound system? Combine the two and you are close to the ever present noise in my head.
I don’t say this to be whining. People have much worse to contend with. This is simply my annoyance to deal with. It’s been with me so long most of the time I give it no notice at all. Since I can’t turn it off, for the most part, I have learned to rewire my attention away from it. It’s only at night in the quiet that the ringing demands center stage, filling up the audible space vacated by the usual hum of daily living.
I cover it up well with music. All kinds of music. Anyone who knows me knows I surround myself with music as much as possible. I like music for the sake of its beauty and for the way it inspires me, but an essential benefit is the way it takes my mind away from the ringing.
Some people like the TV on as background noise. My mother in law, Dolores, was like that. Twenty-four seven, her TV was blaring. Mostly on the shopping network. This could be one of the reasons we found eighteen purses with tags still attached when we cleaned out her condo. Her persuasive television friends no doubt convinced her she needed many things to fill the empty spaces in her life.
Maybe, though, it wasn’t actually emptiness she was trying to fill but rather, like me trying to drown out the ringing in my ear, she was trying to drown out the sound of a broken heart. She was always outwardly looking on the bright side of any situation. But, I think inside she was always trying to push away the forceful roaring of her grief.
Dolores’ heartbreak came to her as a result of being transplanted from NY to Texas and never fully making peace with the changes it brought, uprooting her from family and friends and everything familiar. It came from losing her husband in midlife and then losing her adult daughter to a disease she couldn’t conquer. No matter what the age, losing a child must be the deepest ache there is. An impossible pain to silence.
All of these losses had been beyond her control but she did her best to keep the noise of grief locked away in the quiet place of her heart. It seemed she avoided this place at all cost. I remember one time she was at our house and, of course, music was playing. Ave Maria came on and immediately she asked me to turn it off. I think that particular song was too beautiful, too soulful. It would force her to the vulnerable place in her heart she had locked away. I guess even the thought of going there was just too painful. Even though the journey through grief would be the only path to the true quiet of peace, the cost was too great for her to consider. Better to keep the TV on. Better to hide in the noise.
The ringing in my ear, this distraction I keep at bay, came to me early as a child. By the time I was two I had my tonsils removed because of repeated ear infections. Back then there was no option for tubes, at least not in Lubbock, Texas. Back then they lanced the ear to release the pressure and fluid from the infection. It hurt like hell.
I can remember once when I was about four or five my ear was so infected I heard my own voice in double. Always looking for new ways to perform I turned my malady into an opportunity and, turning the music on in the living room, I sang a “duet”. For hours. A day or so later I had the ear lanced again. I can remember the sound before the needle hit the ear drum. I’ve heard you can’t actually remember physical pain. I can feel its echo.
The many lancing procedures left a hole in my ear drum which, at some point, scarred over. Maybe it’s the source of the ringing. I’m really not sure. I just know it’s there.
Recently, after a upper respiratory bug the ringing got worse, harder to ignore. I went to the doctor and was told nothing could be done about the ringing. I was also told I have lost 25% of my hearing in both ears and the ringing is now aggravated by my ears trying to work so hard to hear. I think I understood that correctly but, it sounds weird doesn’t it; that ear noise would get louder by the ear trying to hear. I am thinking I need even more music in my life! Just not too loud. But loud enough to hear…and loud enough not to hear.
There is a writer who is credited with writing much of the New Testament scripture. He is called The Apostle Paul. He talks about a thorn he has in his side. He’s prayed over and over again for it to be removed. There is all kinds of scholarly speculation about just what this “thorn” is. It doesn’t matter. Not the point! He says in this struggle he’s been reminded God’s grace is enough. Enough to make it possible to carry on. With the thorn in his side? That’s it? That’s the answer to his prayer? Seems like a pretty crummy answer to an earnest (get that…ear-nest?) prayer.
Or, is it? I don’t know. Maybe it is the perfect answer. Do I wish the ringing would cease in my ear? Oh, hell yes. And, still, I do find grace in each and every day. I find grace in the way I love and appreciate music so much. Perhaps I would have never become so attentive to it had I not needed it to redirect me from focusing on the negative noise.
I find grace even in the quiet when the ringing is its loudest. I can sense God’s presence with me, quieting my frustration. In those moments I feel loved in my brokenness.
And I find grace in the way I am able to hear the stories of others who carry with them a constant reminder of their frailty. No, I do not know exactly how it feels to carry what they carry. However, I can feel the echo of it and I can sympathize with the struggle to accommodate to the things we can’t change. We can hold the noise together.
I guess if we’re fortunate to live long enough we all get scars that require a certain reorientation. Whether they be physical or emotional or both we are, at once, frail and resilient as created beings. Whatever it is that hurts us comes to us as an uninvited interruption to the notion we are invincible. What I’m considering today is maybe this is the whole point. The actual distraction to clear is the false notion we are invincible. Maybe this is the path to embracing our full humanity.
Christ had a thorn as well. His was love. It was always with him and nothing could drown it out. Not the temptation of power. Not hatred. Not indifference. Not persecution. This thorn of love cost him everything. Even his life. He carried this love all the way to the cross. And, today, this beautiful, loud, and tenacious Love lives on.
I hope Dolores heard the soothing comfort of Love as she walked through life avoiding the cries of her grief. I trust completely she feels the sound of its peace now.
This Love lives on in you. In me. In us. In the midst of the noise, pain, and distraction it is calling us to its melody of joy. Shhh…can you hear it?
Something to chew on….