Three years ago today I was on my way from Fort Lauderdale to speak at Kabbalat Shabbat services at Temple Judea in Coral Gables, Florida, I suddenly realized that I was hearing nothing in my right ear. I thought it would pass. It did not, and it has not since.
The ear specialist had no explanation. He believes it is inner ear nerve damage and that it is permanent. An MRI showed a virus, but still there was no explanation. “Sudden complete hearing loss in one ear is unusual, ” the doctor explained, “but it is not unheard of.”
Life has been different ever since. Crowd noises are deafening. Large gatherings of people are no fun, and most of the time if I want to hear what someone says to me, I must look straight at their lips.
As I continue to adjust to the reality of having only one hearing ear, I am so very aware that so many people deal with much greater physical challenges.
It is my nature to look at things that happen to me in life with the same question I ask when I study a biblical story or narrative: What can I learn from this that can make me a better person? What can I take away from this unfortunate incident that can help me to better fulfill my Covenantal obligation to the Almighty to use whatever abilities I have to make the world a better place?
There is an old saying that has taken on new meaning for me since my hearing loss: “God gave us only one mouth but two ears, so that we would listen twice as much as we speak.”
Now I have only one ear that hears and that one–without my hearing aid–at considerably less than 100%. Listening is much harder now. As a result I choose to spend more time than before alone, reading, thinking and writing. When I am with people it is a much greater struggle than previously to absorb all that they are saying. I must concentrate on every word.
As I do, my silent prayer is: “Help me, O’ G-d, to really understand the word שמע, “Listen!” Help me to really LISTEN to thoughts, nuances and feelings better than I ever did before, even when I had two ears that heard.