I’m sitting in a booth in a local coffee shop nursing my bagel and drinking coffee while reggae music seeps out of the sound system. The place was crowded until a few minutes ago when several big groups left, probably going back to work. Somebody had a Reuben sandwich based on the lingering smell of sauerkraut. There’s a fireplace with a fire going — this is a cloudy, mid-December day and it brightens the mood. There’s been a lot of chatter but it is growing quiet. I notice the broken plate glass window high up over a corner table where another small group of architects sit and drink coffee over unrolled building plans.The glass looks unstable and I appreciate architecture enough that I wouldn’t want to see them sliced and diced by falling chunks of glass. I point it out to a passing busboy who looks and says he never noticed it before. ”Maybe people shouldn’t be sitting there” I said. He shrugs and says he will mention it to the manager. I’m glad this isn’t a windy day. He never returned nor did the manager. The mahjong ladies are starting to show up at thier usual table — two tables away from my usual table. We’ve never spoken.
I’ve taken to noticing such things a lot more lately. Partly because I just recently was fitted with hearing aids in both ears. I didn’t know how much I was missing. I knew I had some hearing loss in my left ear…I once worked on the tarmac of a busy airport and it was too loud to be healthy but also too dangerous to wear ear protection. This was back in the 1970s and my hearing has been adequate for most things – I thought. I noticed a while ago that I can’t hear a whistling teakettle ….probably the teakettle’s fault. My daughter came to visit and said I had an alarm going off in the house —”what alarm?” I asked. It was a smoke detector on the fritz making a high-pitched beep…not the usual blasting horn alarm. And it’s true that some people say the most outlandish things, don’t you know. But now I realize why I get strange looks when I reply or comment on what I think they said.
So now I’m hearing all sorts of things I haven’t noticed that I couldn’t hear. Bacon frying is deafening…I forgot how it sounds. There are so many creaks and groans in the house that I never heard before. I hear sounds I can’t identify at all. My cat finally got my attention about that empty water dish. Water running, dishes clincking, assorted beeps and signals from various appliaaces are all entering my consciousness again. Conversations make more sense and I’m not smiling and nodding while wondering to myself ”What the hell — did he say what I think he said?” All those BBC dramas might make more sense. Doctors tell me that eventually my brain will learn to filter out some useless sounds but for a while it is freaking out over sounds I’ve not heard in years or never heard. That makes me so much more aware of things – not just sounds but everything in my environment.
Another thought that comes to mind this time of year is remembering the folks we celebrated holidays with last year who are no longer with us. My next door neighbor died in June after being sick for less than a day. Here today and gone tomorrow. My wife has been gone seven years but she was only sick five days. My father-in-law went to a local horse track with his best friend but the friend keeled over and died in his arms. There are a few people I worry about and wonder if they will be here next year. I’m not being morose or melancholy — it is a fact of our existence. Lives are fragile and temporary….and too often not sufficiently appreciated.
This is Christmas season – or Chanukah – or solstice – or whatever. People are out going places and socializing more than usual. There is a special someone on their list. They’re shopping for that perfect gift. They are giving hugs to people that maybe they see only once a year. I’m noticing all of this plus I’m out running around more than usual so I’m in the middle of it. I’m in a higher state of physical awareness than I was. Things happen quickly. Look around — all that you have and all that you hold dear could be gone by the middle of next week. Maybe next week I’ll say something to the mahjong ladies.