Second Wind

A funny thing happened to me on my ride into the sunset. I took a left turn.

Somehow, somewhere, but not somewhat, the slumping shoulders straightened.

It’s like swimming laps with the timing clock ticking off the few seconds of rest and hearing myself whimper that I can’t do it and hearing my other self say you are doing it but if you keep listening to yourself say you can’t do it you’ll stop and you control that, not the clock, not the water, not the other swimmers, just you alone, so decide.

So the decision that I made, without actually being aware of it, was to live my life as an openly disabled person, to make no secret or excuses for my hearing disability, ask for reasonable accommodations, be brave enough to risk making mistakes and keep doing the work I do. My twenty year old business, Wilberg Community Planning LLC, is alive and thriving. I love my work. Why leave what I love? No Going Out of Business Sale here.

A well-meaning friend, eyebrows arched, once said to me, “Well, you don’t want to wait too long to quit,” as if I was a baseball pitcher with a fragile elbow.

What does that mean – waiting too long? I’m 66. Is that already too long? Who decides when’s too long? Oh, wait!

I decide. I forgot.




I wasn’t prepared for this. No one told me how to take my personality, my intelligence, my accomplishments, my ambition, my ego and put them all behind a gauzy thick wall that mutes most voices and distorts the sounds of everyday life. The siren could be a whistle or a baby screaming or someone’s worn out rear brakes, I won’t know until the ambulance crosses the street in front of me.

I wasn’t prepared for this. No one told me how to stop the waves of self-pity, the dejectedness I feel when I realize that once again I have missed the point of an important conversation or become the target of loved ones’ exasperation with my having heard them wrong one time too many today. Until death do us part skipped the part about the burden of a disability suffered by the partner who doesn’t have it.

I wasn’t prepared for this. No one told me how to breathe through my hearing loss like the nurse told me to breathe through contractions, how to accept what can’t be changed but not give an inch away too early, how to look at people when they are talking, how to fully concentrate on them, take each word one at a time, see it formed, watch hands showing, illustrating. I have been spoiled by the expectation of casual conversation, the challenge of finding the best argument, winning.

I wasn’t prepared for this. No one told me how to find other ways to be smart, different ways to be competent and capable, strong and steady, and how to resist the magnet of dependency, how to be honest about what I can no longer do well but courageous about what I can still do if I am not afraid, but I am always afraid, in my heart, of failing, of not being the person I was ten years ago or five.

But then I think who am I to think I should have been specially prepared for hearing loss? There are so many people who truly were blindsided by terrible conditions, limbs lost in war, speech lost in strokes, catastrophic blindness, extreme depression, all things coming out of the blue. That’s not what happened to me. My hearing loss crept up on me, a bit at a time, until the lines on the graph headed ever and ever more downward. In my head, a constant sound plays, like water running through a pipe, sometimes there is a humming accompaniment, a secret din. I look at people talking to me and want to say, you have no idea how loud it is in here.

Every day I remember that there are many worse things. I tell myself that it is up to me whether I see myself as broken. It is up to me to handle this in a way that keeps hearing loss from being the cancer that ends my career and hobbles my relationships.

It is my job to be stronger than the thing that is crippling me.