Sunday, September 4, 2011

Lending me their ears

I have seen cartoons about helping old ladies across the street since I was a Boy Scout.  I have seen movies where one buddy leans on another as they get the wounded one to the helicopter or the ambulance.  Physical assistance with movements I knew about.

At the end of the movie "A Beautiful Mind", the main character, John Nash, real-life Noble prize winner, mathematician and mental illness victim, has a visitor at the door of his classroom who informs him that he has been awarded the Noble prize in economics for his mathematical work in game theory.  The news is, naturally, staggering, but the professor's critical thinking kicks in.  Unlike the mentally-ill real-life daughter we had before her death a few years ago, Nash still had the ability to doubt his sense impressions  and his thoughts, even while suffering schizoprenia.  He was able to ask for verification.  As a co-ed passes out of the classroom, past the visitor, Nash turns to her and asks," Do you see a man standing here?"  It is a surprising question but she clearly does and says that she does.  Ah, validation.  He isn't hallucinating his visitor.  There really is one.

For the last few years, my brain's audio processing has been slowing down and my ability to hear high-pitched sounds has diminished.  My whole family seems to be getting used to Grandad leaning over and asking what was said.  Younger ears can pick up sounds and decode rapid speech that sometimes sounds like slurred gibberish to me.  It is a very welcome kindness that those with sharper equipment can and do rapidly re-state what I missed.  

I am surprised and grateful at how smoothly the better-eared assist me, at how little time passes between the actual statement that I missed and my understanding of an immediate and clearer re-statement.  I sometimes feel I am a U.N. delegate experiencing the skills of a high-level translator speaking English while listening to Japanses or Arabic at almost the same moment.

I see examples in writings of Sylvia Boorstein and Sharon Salzberg, among others, of how the old can assist the young, mostly in comforting them and cheering them and assuring them.  It's great that the young can lend the old their ears and eyes from time to time.

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