Lend an Ear

June 4, 2011

Some days, I wake up wanting nothing more than to tune out the world…today quickly made its way into that coveted category of days.

After being rudely awoken by an unforgiving cellular alarm, I stumbled off to work, finding dissatisfaction with a solid 15 minutes of songs which came up on shuffle. Work itself was no sound for sore ears either–I suspect it was the combination of the quotidian pestering by certain coworkers (something which usually roles right off my back) and the Howie Day Pandora radio station which was chosen as the coffee shop theme music for the day.

I like to think of myself of someone who can role with the punches. Things don’t usually bother me because I’ve gotten pretty good at deflecting unsavory remarks and attitudes by trying to empathize with the people from which they are coming. If someone is being uncharacteristically sour, I generally chalk it up to the fact that they have something difficult going on in their life which has been manifested through curtness. Some may say that it seems like I’m setting myself up as a sounding-board for emotional abuse, but I like to consider it more as being a voluntary punching bag–and if you think about it, punching bags are able to absorb the shock and are no worse off in the end really, so where’s the harm in helping someone blow off steam every once in a while?

That being said, I have my limits.

Sometimes I need someone else to be a punching bag for me. And if no one is willing or available to do so, then I just need everyone to shut up.

So today was one of those days. All morning I found myself wishing that I could just sit in a corner and not have to deal with people. Maybe listen to Taylor Swift tell me about how I, as a fellow adolescent girl, should be feeling while trying to navigate “the time of my life.”

Just as I was focusing on tuning out yet another banal rant by my coworker (who was obviously dealing with his own issues–sorry bud, the punching bag needed some repairs today) a woman in her mid twenties–not much older than myself–stepped up to the counter. I briefly caught her adjusting something behind her ear, and when she began placing her order for a 16 oz soy chai latté, I realized that she had been turning up the volume on her hearing aid.

Her speech had the somewhat monotonous, over-pronounced, almost forced tone which clearly indicated she was nearly deaf–and probably would be fully deaf were it not for her hearing aids. Taking her order resulted in a similar sort of panic which I experience when dealing with costumers who have thick accents or for whom English is clearly not their first language. I hate having to ask “I’m sorry, did you say…?” too many times. However, despite my initial suspicion that I would have to ask for multiple repetitions of her order, this woman conveyed her cravings with surprising ease…in fact, I was the one stumbling over my words when I had to explain to her that we were out of soy, and “would regular milk be ok?” because I was so wrapped up in a) worrying about whether or not she would understand me, and b) not wanting to seem like I was obviously trying to articulate my words in case she needed to read my lips.

After handing her her latté–“yes, regular milk is fine”–punching a hole in her coffee card–“6 punches and you get one free!”–and sending her on her way, I found myself reflecting on the annoyances which had seemed so egregious to me all day. Sure, it would be awesome if I could set a soundtrack to my life, and only have to tune in to people when I wanted, but at least I have the option of communicating with people through both listening and responding effortlessly. For a few brief moments I thought about how my grievances would be dramatically altered if I didn’t have that option, and rather instead had to truly work at being able to operate on a ‘normal’ (whatever that means) communication level. I suspect it wasn’t easy for the woman I waited on to learn how to speak in a way that most people around her could understand; additionally, were it not for the hearing aids, it may well have been impossible for her to have the luxury of hearing music, or laughter, or milk being steamed and coffee being poured.

So while I may wake up some days wishing my ears had a convenient dial on the back which allowed me to control their intake of sound waves, could I perhaps shift my perspective so that, rather than focusing on the static feedback which pushes me so close to the brink of break down, I focus on all the pleasant noises I take for granted? Like the melodic lull of my cat’s purr, or the satisfying pops of my tired knuckles?

As I stood musing over this query for a second or two, I heard a shout from the back room. It was my coworker oh-so-sweetly suggesting that I get back to work.

I began humming a tune and pretended not to hear him.