Something horrible was about to happen. I could feel it. Some energy force was about to overwhelm the planet; or perhaps an enormous asteroid was about to strike. Life was about to end, and I knew there were only seconds remaining. I clenched every muscle in my body. I specifically remember clenching my arms and throwing them outward, hoping the mere flutter of a butterfly’s wings could make what was coming simply go away.
It did. Suddenly everything was okay again.
Sometime later, I walked among boats and along a beach. I looked down and saw a young girl running on the beach, a huge smile on her face. But behind her was an identical spectral image of herself, except she wasn’t smiling, she was screaming. Whatever was about to happen earlier was about to happen again. I didn’t think my butterfly breeze could stop it this time. It was terrifying. Not so much for me, but for that little girl I saw. She was so happy and had her whole life ahead of her.
And then I woke up.
Change is hard. It certainly is for me, anyway. Whenever I sense a change coming, I tend to have apocalyptic dreams. Let’s put it this way: I’m ready for electromagnetic pulse bombs decimating industrial cities, hanging out with a U.S. congressman and staff walking along I-80 trying to survive a zombie takeover, falling asleep and not being able to open my eyes while sailing the boat into a slip (yes, that is a terrifying thought), flooding on a Biblical scale and much more.
For all of the change I bring or allow into my life, I’m pretty bad at it. Like most people, the personal losses bring on the most difficult changes. Last Sunday would have been my Dad’s 81st birthday. He’s been gone for 37 years and I’m not certain I’ve accepted it yet. My mother-in-law has been gone for 11 years — same. My Mom, gone for more than a year … ditto. My best friend? Gone for six months. Nope. Not accepted.
I’m not prescient. I don’t always know when change is coming but when I do, the night hours turn into some pretty bizarre and unsettling mind-fed cinema. And this time I do know things are changing. Among the other “perks” of getting older, I can’t hear as well as even a few months ago.
My audiologist wasn’t certain my hearing would last long enough to warrant the expense, but in May I purchased new hearing aids — they are of the latest technology, controllable from my iPhone and Apple Watch. They were so good that at first I had to turn them down. Then, not long after, I had to turn them up a little. Now I have to turn them up all the way. There is no way for them to be turned up more. For those familiar with the rockumentary film, This Is Spinal Tap, these hearing aids go to 11 — and that’s where I leave them now. I have to prepare for a different life. I really can’t complain, but that doesn’t mean I don’t worry about it, either.
I read lips when I can, and there is a hearing center in Manhattan that offers training in professional speechreading (otherwise known as lip reading). But, of course, speechreading has its limitations.
On the cusp of Halloween, I have a ghost story that touches on that subject. Years ago, Michelle and I took part in a ghost tour on the Queen Mary. The famous and stately old ocean liner is permanently moored in Long Beach, Calif., and has been converted into an unusual and remarkable hotel. It is also said to be haunted. I’m not one to believe in hauntings but the tour gave us access to the nooks, crannies and bowels of the ship that would otherwise be off-limits, and I certainly am into that sort of thing.
In some ways, it was rather creepy — at least enough so that among the nine or 10 people in our group, only three of us were willing to follow the ghost guide into the hold of the ship, where several men had reportedly been killed, and was said to be the source of unexplained phenomena. So the four of us went in, sat down and shut off our flashlights, leaving us in pitch darkness. The guide called out to the unknown, asking if anyone was with us. I left a digital recorder running throughout.
My hearing aids at the time had the microphones in the back, and I could distinctly make out whispering, as though it was occurring only inches behind my head. I later asked the guide what it was that she had been whispering. She told me that she hadn’t been whispering at all.
Later that night I listened to the recording and among the groans and creaks of an old ship, two distinct sentences came out — words that I didn’t hear when we were down in the hold. The first was a voice saying, “Tell her.” I have no idea what that meant but I later passed it on to the guide.
The second was more bewildering. Quite clearly I could hear a voice ask, “Can you see words in the dark?”
No, obviously I have to lip-read — and I can’t see words in the dark. There is no way the guide could have known that about me. While I’m still not sold on the idea of hauntings, I still don’t have an explanation for that experience. It wasn’t scary, per se, but it certainly was unusual — and it somehow seemed directed at me.
I won’t be able to see words in the dark. And increasingly, I can’t hear, or rather, understand them in any light.
Change is coming and I can’t change that. I have to learn to do things differently. And that’s not so different from a whole lot of people. I really can’t complain. As I write this, news reports of a major earthquake on the other side of the world are coming in. I’m comfortable and safe in Florida on a beautiful autumn morning. I can do things; I can even improve things. As mentioned, I hope to take that professional speechreading course. I can change my job to suit my limitations — and some of those changes are actually attributes. With my digital recorder, freed from the bonds of having to hear every word, I can pay more attention to people, to their true and inner selves. I like that. I think that despite that I can’t hear everything at the moment, that is the most respectful I can be — giving my undivided attention to them as they are.
I don’t know what the future will bring but my dreams are, as they have in the past, apparently preparing me for the worst. That’s okay because the worst has never yet happened, and I don’t expect it to now. So I’m losing my hearing. We’ve all lost something — some more than others — and we still manage to find our way. Life is miraculous like that. Soon, I suspect, that will start coming out in my dreams, and I’ll find my new, albeit changed, place in the world. I know I’m not alone in that sort of thing — you may well have endured more change than you care to think about. But we go on, we improve, we live the gift of life. What dreams may come are likely to be good ones.