I heard Evelyn Glennie’s TED talk “How to Truly Listen” when I did a google search for deafness. In 2013, five years after my husband’s death, my already impaired hearing took a nose dive. A new kind of grief. Glennie’s voice which I could still hear then was confident and vibrant, full of rich tones and cadence. Her speech didn’t hint at deafness, but she had been profoundly deaf since age 12.
When Glennie performed, she was usually barefoot. She talked about feeling rhythm through the soles of her feet and throughout her body.
In 2006, before hearing of Evelyn Glennie or knowing how deaf I would become, I began putting awareness in the soles of my feet as a grounding and calming exercise. It began with a dream after we learned my husband had incurable cancer. In the dream, I walk down wooden steps in the dark, slowly, one foot at a time, feeling the smooth wood beneath me, not knowing where I was going in the dark, but trusting that my feet knew the way.
While Vic went through chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, I sat in a chair next to him and placed the soles of my bare feet on his thigh. He knew the dream and understood what I was doing. I was grounding both of us in this hard world of cancer therapy. Many years later, when Meniere’s vertigo became a frequent visitor or when I felt anxiety or fear, I focused on the soles of my feet and took a deep breath. Sometimes many deep breaths.
Before hearing Evelyn Glennie, I hadn’t focused on feeling rhythm in my feet or hearing vibrations with my body. I do now.
Glennie (Dame Glennie since 2007) is a world famous percussionist, Scottish born with a gorgeous lilt. She laughs as she plays and speaks about sound. Her audience listens, captivated. Here’s the base drum sound. Here’s the triangle. Here’s the kettle drum. In our bodies. Vibrating in our feet. Vibrating everywhere
I watched her talk again recently. I need inspiration as I struggle with an increasingly silent world and prepare for a big change after a cochlear implant. The receiver won’t be turned on until mid March, so I have time and changes in hearing can go on for a year after implant . I’ll need to let sound in again after holding it at a self-protective distance for years. I need to let it vibrate throughout my body.
I don’t expect “natural” hearing or what I used to have. It will always be bionic, even if I can discern words and enjoy music. Still, I long to know where I am in space. To know where to look when someone calls my name. To hear a person’s words without missing so much and asking for repetition or staring at their mouth.
It helps to know that no matter what hearing I develop after surgery, I can rely on vibrations. It’s one of the few things I have in common with a Monarch butterfly. They have no hearing organ or ears but feel “sound” vibration through wings and antenna.
Glennie hears with her whole body. She says, “I think of my whole body as an ear.” I think we all do if we notice. The thud when I load the wood stove or the screen door slams. The vibration as my dog barks to come in. The rhythm of sleet hitting the window.
On the TED talk stage, Glennie was in her element with symbols and sticks and many drums. She didn’t have to decipher human voices there, but I felt she could. She heard through watching eyes, vibrations in her body, sensation on the skin, and through her heart. She heard through her bare feet.
Because I don’t know sign language and neither do my friends, I choose a cochlear implant instead of staying with deafness, but I’ll need help and patient speakers to make this transition. Glennie helps me trust I’ll find a new and rich way to feel the sound.
Do you feel hearing in ways other than your ears? Or other senses such as vision through the fingers (Braille, for example)? Do you think of hearing as an amazing privilege? I think of Helen Keller learning to listen and speak through feeling the movement of her teacher’s mouth. For other articles about the grief of hearing loss, see I Want to Understand You or Dizzy, Deaf, and Determined.