When the hearing aid goes dumb

I have two hearing aids. I need them both.

All of a sudden there was no sound in the left ear. Nada! The hearing aid just quit while listening to a sermon in church. No idea what was said from that point on.

I went home. Changed the battery. Nada. Changed the little white insert at the end of the receiver thinking it might be clogged. Still no sound.

Monday morning, while waiting at the hearing clinic for a verdict on the problem, an older man and his daughter took the seats across from me in the waiting area. They started a conversation. I pointed to my left ear, saying I couldn’t hear. The daughter said something and pointed to her father who also said something I couldn’t understand. Then I said, “I can’t hear,” and smiled. “Sometimes I like the silence. The world is very noisy.” The man laughed. The daughter nodded and smiled knowingly.

It was a momentary communion of glorious shared silence.

The result? The hearing aid has been sent off to the manufacturer for repair of a twisted wire inside the hearing mold. My left ear now wears a loaner, a rental from Herz until my vehicle returns at the cost of $250. I re-imagine the text of the sermon I couldn’t hear:

“Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.” – Proverbs 17:28

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 28, 2017.

Be in the Moment

by Gordon C. Stewart, written five weeks ago in flight from Minneapolis to Los Angeles…before we learned that Kay’s ankle was broken.

Pay attention. Live in the moment. Don’t rush to be where you aren’t. Be right where you are.”

If, for instance, you’re on the stairs… well, watch your step!

This morning Kay and I rose early to catch a flight for a much-needed vacation on the coast of California. We’re excited about this trip, planned at the last moment in the aftermath of losing the dog companions who have been with us for all but the first month of our 14+ year marriage.

Lonely at home without Maggie and Sebastian, I called Kay last Thursday. “Let’s get out of here. The house is empty without them…but we now have freedom to travel. Let’s go somewhere fun.”

Fred, Kay’s colleague at work, said he knew just the place: Cambria, California, a four hour drive north of LA, one his favorite places on the California coast just south of Big Sur.

Within 24 hours we had booked the flights, found a beautiful home in Cambria through VRBO (“Vacation Rental by Owner”), and looked forward to flying out of Minnesota on Monday (today).

Yesterday, Susan Lince, a local artist who moved to Chaska two years ago after teaching Eskimo children in northern Alaska, led us through exercises to become more aware of the senses. Most important is being where you are….touching, tasting, smelling, hearing, seeing.

So…this morning…with Maggie and Sebastian gone, we packed our bags and headed downstairs to the garage.

I had gone first, packed most of the bags in the car, and was waiting for Kay. I assumed she had gone back to get something or to turn something off in the kitchen. I was wrong.

She had fallen down the steps – nine of them – carrying a suitcase I had missed. She came into my sight in the garage limping badly on the ankle that is severely sprained, at best, pulling the suitcase behind.

We iced the ankle and left home for the airport.

Right now we’re on Sun Country Airlines Flight 421 to Los Angeles. Kay has been treated royally since we arrived at the terminal. A wheelchair. Special privileges in getting through security without a line. A Sun Country Airlines attendant pushing her wheelchair and taking care of her needs while the husband who had forgotten the suitcase that contributed to her fall took care of his own bodily needs. The people at Gate 3 arranged for us to change seats so that Kay could have her own row of seats to keep her leg up during the flight.

So…Live in the moment. Touch, see, smell, hear, and taste where you are. And if you’re on your way to California, watch your step when you’re still in Minnesota. You could end up feeling the cold of an ice-pack on your ankle.

“Say the word ‘freedom'”

When the political campaigns speak of ‘freedom,’ listen with care

Gordon C. Stewart, published By MPR, aired on “All Things Considered”, August 31, 2011 Click LISTEN to hear the commentary on Minnesota Publc Radio.

My hearing continues to get worse. In the sound-proof booth of the hearing test, the audiologist asks me to repeat the words I hear…

“Say the word ‘good’.”


“Say the word ‘cold’.”


“Say the word ‘gold’.”


It’s not easy inheriting my mother’s hearing loss. Getting the words wrong often separates me from normal conversation.

But it also has its advantages. I listen more carefully, and the world of silence brings me to a deeper reflection about the words we hear every day.

I’ve begun to listen more carefully when the word “freedom” is used.

“Say the word ‘free.'”

“Free,” we say. And something deep within us hears the national anthem: Land of the free, and the home of the brave.

We Americans love freedom.

Future anthropologists will likely observe that freedom was the most treasured word in the American vocabulary. It is the most powerful word in our language.

No one understands this better than the handlers of political candidates. They know that the word evokes an unspoken reverence, and that perceived threats to freedom alarm us and cause us to get back in the ranks of freedom’s faithful. They know the nature of language and of word association.

“Say the word ‘freedom’,” they say.


“Say the word ‘regulation’.”


“Say the word ‘socialist’.”


“Say the word ‘government’.”


“Say the word ‘American’.”


Freedom stands alone in the American pantheon.

Ironically, in the hands of the unscrupulous, the word we associate with individual liberty can cause a collective stampede. It calls us from grazing freely in the pasture to joining a mindless herd.

We don’t like heresy; we’re afraid of being heretics.

My hearing will continue to get worse. It will take me into a world of increasing silence. In a way, I wish the same for the rest of my countrymen. We could all use some time away from the word-association games.

When we hear the word “freedom,” we should be free to listen carefully and understand it for ourselves.