A few years ago I went to see my doctor about my right ear. It appeared to be blocked and I could tell it had influenced my hearing. She took a look and right away saw the problem. There was a big blob of earwax impacted. “It’s an easy fix” she said. Then proceeded to irrigate the ear canal and remove the obstruction.
When she did, the pop of air and sound startled me. I could hear vividly out of that ear. As I left the office and drove away in my car, I noticed how much more clear everything was out of that side of my head. Sound was no longer muted, but sharp and bright. So much so that I had to turn the music down because that ear began to hurt.
She explained that the nerves had gotten accustomed to the obstruction and they compensated for it. Now that there was a clear path for sound to reach my inner ear, it would take a few days for them to readjust.
I thought about that story yesterday as I was outside painting my house. Painting is a great project for my mind to explore because much of the work is repetitive and rhythmic. The figure-8 movement of the brush strokes back and forth provide a calming sense of accomplishment. However, there was a feeling attached to it that I couldn’t identify. As is my regular practice, I love to ask why.
I’m doing my entire house by myself, by hand, with a brush. No roller or sprayer. The paint I am using has the viscosity of cake batter, so it actually goes on better with a brush and it’s easier to get up under the laps of the original wood siding this way.
Intermixed in my internal conversation was how different this project is now that I live alone. I chose the colors. I set the schedule and go at my own pace. If she was still here, the whole house would have been done by now. I’m on day 7 and a third of the way complete.
This is a huge project now that I’m on my own. I don’t have another to consider, or one whose opinion I need to accommodate. Relational partnership is a continual process of learning and deferring, of give and take. I can do this paint project how I would like to do it, at a slow and methodical speed. I am careful to get it done without drip marks or thin places. I get to take my time and do it how I want it.
But I’m alone.
And therein lies a dilemma of my grief. It’s the pain of hearing again. My soul is asking what is this new sound? And why does it hurt?
This new sound I detect is music that was overpowered by other vibrations. I can hear me again. I can hear my desires and preferences. The craftsman in me that gave way to the goal-oriented partner can now return to work and paint the house accordingly.
This was an epiphany for me. This is my new normal. I am free to learn to hear my heart again in ways I never could before. But it is both agonizing and liberating. The sting of loss mixed with the discovery of new possibilities is a bittersweet song.