Someone came up to me after a funeral just before Christmas and said it was the first service they had heard all the way through for years. We had just replaced our worn-out loop system at Holy Trinity, and this important mode of inclusion was working better. As we read Isaiah in Advent – ‘then shall the ears of the deaf be unstopped’, I felt it right that this Messianic promise took one miniscule step of fulfilment through our efforts.
Deafness is the subject of jokes and decidedly ‘inferior’ to other disabilities such as blindness. You get far less sympathy for going deaf than for going blind. It’s partly because we put sight above hearing as a sense. Even the ancients pointed out that we say colloquially, ‘See how well he sings now’, which doesn’t mean exactly what it says. We use ‘see’ for ‘perceive’ in general, as if it were the monarch of the senses, linked to intelligence and understanding.
I’m enjoying reading David Lodge’s ‘Deaf sentence‘ which is full of his usual wit, as well as his ruthless, verging on harsh, honesty. Desmond Bates, a recently retired professor of linguistics battles with words he cannot hear, sentences of which he catches only one or two bits, jokes that remain opaque. His deafness is just part of his general sense of becoming old and unwanted and useless. His isolation is becoming excruciating to watch. (Why did I say that? I meant, ‘to read about’.)
He’s good on the superiority of sight to hearing: Bates muses that only Inspector Clouseau would say ‘There’s more in this than meets the ear’. He ponders over whether Goya or Philip Larkin or Beethoven would have produced such powerful work towards the end of their lives without having gone deaf. And, sneaking a look at the end, it seems that Bates goes to lip-reading class, and maybe gets his ears ‘unstopped’ that way.
Oddly enough, I have the opposite problem: my hearing is rather acute, and each sound comes to me insistently and separately. So sometimes I seem not to hear because I just can’t pay attention to every sound at the same time. I used to find it difficult to sing in a choir because I couldn’t decide which part to sing with. Has anyone else had that problem?