Listening for Invisible Blessings

Tuesday morning.

I awake with loud ringing in my right ear. I stick my finger in it. Wiggle it. Blow my nose. No such luck. The ringing grows louder. I turn to Google and search “sudden onset of tinnitus in one ear.” Google says tumors and blood clots and, hopefully, ear wax. I resolve to never search a symptom on Google ever again. The best recommendation: ambient sound, avoid silence at all costs.

I go to my hushed therapy office for a full day of work.

It’s torture.

By the end of the day, I’m jumping out of my skin. I’m starting to get anxious. I will be traveling to Virginia on Saturday for a speaking engagement, and I can’t imagine doing so with this ringing. Of course, people live their whole lives with tinnitus, but silence has always been my best coping method—the idea of living with this forever almost undoes me. It is always a little terrifying when a lifelong coping strategy quits working.

I go to sleep, hoping for magic overnight.

Wednesday morning.

No magic. After a restless night, I rise to the ringing even louder in my ear. I call my chiropractor, and he takes good care of me, but afterward, the ringing continues unabated. I can sense something dark lurking at the edges of my hope. For the rest of the day, I do my best to ignore it.

Thursday morning.

I awake and the ringing is louder than ever. Remembering the ear wax thing, I call my doctor and set up an appointment for Friday afternoon. Then, I try to concentrate on producing my podcast. Around noon, with the mercury pushing seventy for the first time all year, I finally give up. I put air in the tires of my bike and go for my first outdoor ride in six months.

Nature has been stubborn here. Though it has been spring for more than a month, there is no green to be seen. I ride through brown, barren forests. With no foliage yet to obscure it, the death and decay on the forest floor is laid bare. Toppled trees. Lightning scorched stumps. Rotting leaves and branches. A month from now, on this very same ride, I will be unable to see any of it—it will all be obscured by the resurrection of springtime, the dense blessing of new growth. The death and decay will still be there, but it will be hidden within the beauty.

I ride through the barren forest and, suddenly, I realize I can’t hear the ringing.

The rush of air past my ears is is obscuring it.

The brokenness of my hearing, hidden within the beauty of the wind.

The dark thing at the edges of my hope retreats a little.

Usually, I insist on believing that blessing is found in the absence of brokenness. But I’m reminded once again, blessing is not the absence of brokenness; it is beauty amidst the brokenness. Beauty is the blessing that helps us bear the burden of our brokenness. Beauty is given to us, in seasons, so we may pay attention to it for a little while, rather than the brokenness, rather than the death and decay.

I get home and do the dishes. I realize the running of water obscures the ringing even better than the wind, and I live in a town with a river running through it, and in the middle of the town is a dam. I imagine spending the remainder of my years—my march toward death and decay—with a broken ringing in my ears, and I picture myself going down to the river daily, to let the sound of the dam replace the ringing in my head.

Beauty amidst the brokenness.

Brokenness lost in beauty.

Friday morning.

The ringing continues. I bide my time until my doctor appointment. It finally arrives, and sure enough, the doctor pulls an embarrassingly large plug of earwax from my ear. However, the ringing continues. The dark thing threatens to advance yet again. But this time, I remember the beauty that will be there amidst the brokenness.

Wind through treetops.

Water over a dam.

Saturday morning.

I awake to more ringing. It gets obscured a little bit by my kids’ laughter, and a little more by their fighting. I wonder if all of it is beautiful, a blessing to swallow the brokenness, distract from the decay. I say my goodbyes and head to the airport. Then, about thirty minutes before boarding, I realize the ringing has subsided. I don’t remember the exact moment it stopped, just that suddenly there was silence.

I get on the plane. I don’t like flying. It makes me anxious. Yet, I know anxiety is fueled by avoidance, so instead of avoiding thoughts of death and decay, I put on a song, in which the refrain is,

Where does everybody go when they go?

Where does everybody go when they go?

Where does everybody go when they go?

I hope wherever I go, I get to keep listening for the beauty. I hope, somehow, I get to hear the wind through the treetops, water over the dam, the sound of my kids and their kids and their kids laughing and fighting and frolicking. I hope wherever we go we get to keep listening for invisible blessings.

I hope, wherever we go, our brokenness is held within Something beautiful.

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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.