But there is one remark that always rankles, me more than Keith, although it is always directed at him: "You can hear what you want to hear."
Sometimes it's supposed to be a joke—a poor one; sometimes it's one of those "manly" gibes; but every time it shows ignorance on the part of the one who says it. The temptation is strong to wish the malady on them for just one week and see if their tune doesn't change. I have to beat that unkind thought off with a stick far too often. Not Keith—he doesn't hear it!
He started going deaf while he was in the Marines. No one knows why; it does not run in the family. He was prescribed his first pair of hearing aids six months into our marriage at the age of 27, and he has gone downhill steadily. He is now labelled "profoundly deaf."
If he can't see your mouth, he can't "hear" you. He lip-reads most of the time. When the church decides to reserve the front center seats for a certain group that does not include the visually or aurally impaired, they are effectively removing him, and those like him, from the worship.
At home he cannot hear me calling from another room. Even if we are working side by side, we cannot talk as we work because he is keeping his attention on what he is doing. Especially if we are doing something like peeling and chopping tomatoes for canning, he cannot even take a half second to look at my lips without endangering himself. And I don't know about you, but I would find it hard to say much in half a second.
At night when the lights go out, all communication ceases. No pillow talk for us. We have even had to work out a signal just in case I hear a prowler in the night, something I can do involving touch that tells him there is danger, but that he needs to keep quiet.
When I have to be away from home overnight, he doesn't sleep well at all. You cannot go to bed with your hearing aids on any more than you can with your glasses. Without them, he cannot hear the smoke alarm, even though it is right outside our bedroom door. A bad guy could hack the door down with an axe and be on him before he knew it. Doesn't make for easy sleeping.
When he works outside, he cannot wear his hearing aids. They will short out from the moisture of perspiration. Anyone who works with him has to learn how to communicate, and let me tell you, it can be exasperating.
Yet, I can understand why people do not quite get it. First, it's not always about volume. A man and a woman could say something at precisely the same volume and assuming he can see them, he might hear the man but not the woman. She speaks in a higher frequency. Children are even worse, especially the younger ones whose speech is not yet clear.
Accents are a problem. People from another country often speak in a different cadence, so besides pronunciation issues, the small things he has grown to count on that you never even notice are just "off." So, yes, to the ignorant, it might seem like he can "hear" when he wants to.
Even lip-reading is not the ultimate solution. Many words "look" the same on the lips. What "reads" like one word can easily be another. He counts on knowing the subject in order to figure out the words. Names and numbers have absolutely no context. More often than not he gets them wrong, no matter who is saying them or how loudly.
"Hearing" is a real chore for him. What he hears is a fill-in-the-blank test. He is constantly working to read lips, remember the context, and consider several possible words in a split second—every second. Trying to keep up in a conversation with more than two others is next to impossible. Sitting down to a relaxing conversation is a pipedream.
"You can hear what you want to hear?" Believe me, there are many things he would love to hear but can't.
Like the voices of his children when they were little and wanted to tell Daddy something. And now his grandchildren. Gradually, they just gave up trying.
Like the phone ringing when I got stuck in Birmingham in the middle of the night a long time ago. It's a wonder I ever made it home.
Like the several times I've needed urgent help outside in the yard, or even from another room in our one story, thirteen hundred square foot house and he could not come running.
Like being able to hear himself and others well enough to stay in key during the singing at church. Here is a man who once played violin, one of the most aurally demanding instruments there is. When we were dating, we talked about someday me playing the orchestral accompaniment to his violin concerto. Never happened—he was already too deaf when we married.
But he still loved to sing. One time some middle schoolers sat in front of us at a church that will remain unnamed. We noticed they were passing notes, but thought nothing of it until the service was over and they had left some trash in the pew. He reached down to pick it up and throw it away. There in his hand lay the note they had passed: "Do you hear that guy behind us. He sure sounds weird. Who told him he could sing?" God did actually, and he does, no matter what anyone else thinks, but he does wish he could hear well enough to still do it well.
Yet that little comment, "You can hear what you want to hear," does have a valid application, even for normal hearing people.
“Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not. Do you not fear me? declares the LORD. Do you not tremble before me? I placed the sand as the boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail; though they roar, they cannot pass over it. But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; they have turned aside and gone away. They do not say in their hearts, ‘Let us fear the LORD our God, who gives the rain in its season, the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for us the weeks appointed for the harvest.’ (Jer 5:21-24)
This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. (Matt 13:13)
If we don't want to hear the truth, we won't. We can even hear the words and come up with a completely different meaning, thus, Jesus' warning: Take heed how you hear, (Luke 8:18.
So if you suddenly feel a need to say, "You can hear what you want to hear," to someone who is hearing disabled, stop--remember to apply it to yourself first.
And unto them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which says, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall in no wise understand; And seeing ye shall see, and shall in no wise perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, And their ears are dull of hearing, And their eyes they have closed; Lest haply they should perceive with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And should turn again, And I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. (Matt 13:14-16)