How Losing Your Senses Could Make Sense of Everything Else

About four months ago, I began to lose my hearing.

Every few days, for about thirty seconds, I would lose my hearing completely in my right ear. The doctors couldn’t find an explanation. But then a chiropractic adjustment seemed to resolve it. For about six weeks. Then it happened again, in the other ear. And then it happened again and again and again. As I waited a day to see the chiropractor, my anxiety swelled. I thought of the music I love and the sound of wind in autumn trees and way you can hear my wife’s contagious laugh from two houses away.

And I started to panic.

The Day Dis-ease Happens

We don’t think about disease and disability and death until we have to.

And that’s a good thing. If we walked around constantly ruminating about disease, life itself would become a dis-ease. There is something healthy in our capacity to compartmentalize some things for a little while. But what do we do when those things walk out of their compartment and sit down in the middle of our lives?

I get scared.

Some people get angry. Others get compulsive. Some people try to solve the problem until they run out of possible solutions. Some people simply shove the thing back in its compartment and refuse to think about it. I wish I was capable of that, but I’m not. I don’t get as scared as I used to, but I still wake up in the wee hours of the night thinking about it. And it still intrudes into my waking hours: a thought I didn’t even realize I was having that makes my heart skip a beat.

As I waited for my chiropractor, I tried to think of the healthiest way to let my fear out of its compartment. I thought of the question many of us will play with from time to time: If I had one day to live, what would I do?

Oftentimes, the answer to that question includes radical things like quitting jobs and jumping out of airplanes and soaking up pleasure and tearful goodbyes to loved ones. It’s an extreme question about an extreme situation that elicits extreme answers. It wasn’t helpful. So instead, I began asking a different question:

If I only had one day to hear, what would I listen to?

The Day Treasure Happened

Two days after I began to lose my hearing again, I arrived home on a Thursday evening, weary from a long week. As usual, I was craving silence.

I have three kids—I said goodbye to silence a long time ago.

So, as usual, I opened the door and, as usual, I prepared myself for the onslaught of school updates and questions and fights about toys and protests about the dinner selection and resistance to bedtime.

But on this particular Thursday, something unusual happened.

The three little voices came at me and—on the day I was imagining was my last day to hear—I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I soaked it all in. Every lilting word and every whiny cry and every petty jab. I wanted to hear my wife laugh with them, and I wanted to hear her get frustrated at them. I wanted to hear the clink of glasses and the clank of silverware. I wanted to hear the kids chewing with their mouths open. I wanted to hear the doorbell ring and the dog barking like an idiot. Like an old Aerosmith song, I didn’t want to miss a thing.

With one day to hear, the cacophony felt more sacred than silence ever could.

With one day to hear, the noise in my ears became music to my ears.

With one day to hear, the sonorous world rang with treasures.

Usually, by Thursday night, I just want the day to be over. But on this unusual Thursday, I didn’t want it to ever end.

Five Senseless Days That Make Sense of Everything

The MRI was negative and the chiropractic adjustment worked again and this time we figured out what I was doing to displace a bone onto the auditory nerve. The relief was immense. Yet, a part of me wanted to re-live the last day before I lost my hearing. So, this is what I decided to do:

I lived the next day as if it was my last day with sight. The messy house became a gift. I lived the day after that as if it was the last day I would smell. The dead rot of autumn made me dizzy. I lived the next day as if it was the last day I could taste. My toothpaste was like dessert. And I lived the following day as if it was my last day to touch. I realized how warm a hug is.

Here’s your challenge:

Live each of the next five days as if you’re about to lose one of your senses. And then let it make sense of everything else. Let it remind you that life is messy and rotten and tedious and painful, but also a beautiful gift to be seen and smelled and heard and touched and tasted.

In the words of Frederick Buechner, “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

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In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.