Sunday, March 8, 2009

Working the problem

[calligraphy: This by Rev. Nonin Chowaney]
I am aware that some lovely, intelligent women read this blog for inspiration. Others especially like it when I can deliver inspiring words with a sense of humor. That can be a constraining persona when life doesn't seem very funny.

Yesterday morning Tom and I made the effort to go to a videotaped talk put on by the Zen group that meets in our church. We haven't sat with that group for a while, all the problems of our low energy and various handicaps (for instance, his electric wheelchair can break down if you take it through rain or snow). As soon as we walked into the pleasant lounge where the sangha had gathered for this, I felt how pleasant and comforting the quiet atmosphere was. There is a nice energy to people who have been meditating together for an hour. I'd forgotten.

One of the men brought me an overstuffed chair, thankfully, because I hadn't thought to bring the gel cushion I am using now to diminish the impact of the arthritis in my hip. With some effort, the volume on the laptop was adjusted so I could hear it. Pause for explanation.

For well over ten years I have worn hearing aids. Hearing loss is another one of those unfortunate things you get for having the wrong parents. I am on my second pair of hearing aids. These are digital and programmable. They cost $3500, and that was a bargain price, though why that should be, I don't know, when you can buy a fabulous electronic device for one-tenth that much, Maybe because most people who need hearing aids are old and confused and demoralized, and nobody really wants to help us with the hard stuff when they could be off hiking. Maybe because the customer base is too tired and too sick to mount a public campaign. I don't know. But that's the playing field.

A little footnote to my life-threatening health problems this past year was the growing perception that the hearing aids weren't working as well. I went twice to Echo Hearing, where I bought them. The women there did an exam and determined my hearing hadn't really changed, but couldn't get it together to obtain the cable they needed so they could reprogram the aids, bring them up a notch. Frustrated by two fruitless visits, I went to someone else, a bonafide doctor, who didn't examine my hearing at all, or suggest changing the reception, just cleaned them briskly and charged me $50. At that point I had exhausted whatever yang I had to spend on this particular handicap, and gave up.

At best, hearing aids aren't very good, not nearly as effective as glasses. They amplify everything, all the background noises like fans and people shuffling their feet that your natural hearing mechanism somehow sorts out. They are intolerable in noisy places, but essential to enjoy a one-on-one conversation. If I don't have them, voices are muffled, cottony, like a foreign language, and I wear out trying to understand. For years now I've found that I can't hear people talk in group situations. This was one of the factors that drove me out of teaching in 1995.

I was okay during the talk yesterday, a wonderful talk about simply meeting reality. But in the quiet, thoughtful discussion afterward, I could only understand two people - Tom, to my immediate left (my good ear), and Margaret, to his left (a good, clear voice). Everyone else was very yin, which is what meditation does to you, quiets your energy. Soon I felt like a cat watching a tennis match, not understanding what was going on, just watching the ball go back and forth.

If you want to know just how in touch with reality most people are, let them know you can't quite hear them. Ask them to direct their voice your way. Almost no one continues to do this for more than one or two sentences. What does that mean? To me, it means they are concerned with expressing themssselves, not with communicating to me.

Knowing that, I didn't interject my handicap into the conversation yesterday. What's the point? I just sat there and thought, I need one of those Phonak things the doctor told me about. This is a sort of receiver you wear around your neck. It has to be coupled with a microphone set in the middle of the group. Right. Or do I want a scooter more?

I do want a scooter. Last summer I didn't walk down to the brook at all, and this year I am worse, with arthritis and neuropathy in my legs and feet, and declining kidney functions depleting my energy even more. It is time to admit that I'm never going to be better than this, and do what I can to adapt.

Hearing is about being social. The scooter is more about being personally more capable. My most important use of a scooter would be to wander around the ravine, though only on the roads; to be able to be out in nature. Just that. If I get one that breaks apart and is easy to manage, or had a special lift installed, I could put it in the van and go to the arboretum, or the conservatory or museum, or gallery hop, or go to church and sit in it in coffee hour and not be relegated to the old people's ghetto, the tables off at the side of Fellowship Hall. I could use a scooter at the grocery store, if it had a basket; the electric shopping carts they supply are awful. I could take the scooter down to the Cultural Arts Center for the Thursday conversations with artists.

So my thoughts went. At the same time, to go to the Thursday conversations, or enjoy the Zen discussions, or even Fellowship Hall, I need to be able to hear.

The vast insurance conspiracy doesn't think so, and won't pay for hearing assistive devices. On the other hand, some people get Medicare to buy them scooters. I could try that route. Maybe it would come through before I die. It sounds too hard. And right now, our attention is focused on getting a generator installed to help us survive the long power outages we are getting around here, with windstorms knocking down the old trees and the whole infrastructure aging and susceptible. We need electricity to run Tom's ventilator and the pump I use every day on my lymphedemic arm, to say nothing of the computers that are our chief contact with the world.

What is the inspiration in all this? Precious little, and it isn't funny. It is discouraging, more so when people your age are bopping around traveling, dancing, gardening.

But there is something to be said here in praise of Zen, something that encourages me to keep up my meditation practice. Just sitting with other meditators for an hour in that peaceful space forced me to bottom out on these problems, look at them squarely, and think about what I could do.

Working the problem is not the same as "having a positive attitude," a stance which is constantly urged on me by a dear old friend who doesn't know any better. She was telling me recently, blithely, that I could travel around the world and they would have scooters waiting for me at every airport. Oh yeah. Well, I have had some experience with travel arrangements of this kind.

And, she added, I would be as good as new. No one needs to be handicapped in this day and age, she said.

I know she needs to think that, insists on thinking that, and I don't try to change her. I don't even get annoyed anymore, for I admire her courage. But the fact is, you never get to be as good as new. The best you can do is adjust to the new normal. By the time you do, it will have changed again, and not for the better. That's not pessimism or a bad attitude; it's the truth.

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate this connection with you, a serious practitioner, finding Zen goes beyond the ways it has been borrowed for advertising some special fluffy calm state, but looks deeply into the truth of life. Thank you for your teaching!