The loud clang, clang, clang of the church bells resounding across the quad combined with the incessant chatter of excited kids running out of classrooms, looking for either their family cars in the carpool lane or their parents waiting on the warm September concrete. The noise of the bells was so loud it elevated the energy of the end of the first day of school.
My twin five-year-old sons were covering their ears as they stood at my feet yelling, “Mommy, where’s Flynn?” when I finally saw him coming towards us. It’s hard to explain exactly how, but in many ways the moment when I finally locked eyes with my oldest son seemed to defy the laws of physics. It felt as if the instant his eyes met mine, time slowed to a stop. The loud noises around me suddenly faded into the background, and even his legs seemed caught in mid-gait as my oldest son and I just looked at each other.
He was the picture of a typical elementary school child in the middle of a pandemic. Under his brown eyes, his mustard yellow mask was stretched across his face, hiding his expression. His Catholic school uniform was still in pretty good shape after just a half a day of socially distanced instruction, though his shirttail was long released from the band of his shorts. On his feet were bright red and blue tennis shoes (permitted only for this special year), and his new backpack, stuffed with extra masks and hand sanitizer, rested squarely on his shoulders. He matched the rest of the crowd of students around him in so many ways, except one.
In his ears, unmistakable even from the distance between us, rested two bright blue hearing aids. These aids have been his constant companions since he was diagnosed with moderate hearing loss at age five. Unlike glasses, hearing aids do not correct hearing to the auditory equivalent of 20/20. And any ambient noise makes the hearing aids less effective. In fact, the clanging of the church bells combined with the chattering noise of excited elementary school students was enough ambient noise to render his hearing aids useless at that moment.
I have learned in the last seven years of parenting my son so many things about how hearing loss affects him. I can say how it makes things challenging in the classroom. I can supply article upon article about things like listening fatigue and the effects of missing social cues. Parenting a child with hearing loss has taught me a lot about how we hear and the challenges when we cannot. Most importantly, it has taught me how to listen with more than just my ears. Parenting Flynn has taught me to listen from the depths of my soul.
In that moment, eye to eye with my son, it was like I could feel his day. Without words, his eyes told me of the excitement of being back in school mixed with the challenge of listening through a sea of plexiglass and masks. As we stared at each other, I could feel everything he wanted to tell me in that moment and everything he wanted to hear me say right back in a conversation without words, soul to soul. It was like God hushed the world so that our souls could have a chat standing on the warm concrete in the bright afternoon light.
There is so much ambient noise surrounding us even when we don’t realize it. We spend a lot of our time listening with our ears and responding with our mouths to the world around us. What would we learn if we tried to hear with more than just our ears? St. Ignatius Loyola speaks about this in his Spiritual Exercises. He encourages us, particularly in the Second Week, to engage in the practice of contemplative prayer. He invites us to take Gospel passages and engage with the scenes depicted in them using all of our senses. He asks us to close our eyes and contemplate what we taste, smell, see, hear, or touch as we enter into the scene. Ignatius reminds us that when we take time for silent contemplation and engage all parts of ourselves, we can hear God most eloquently. It is in the quiet that God can help us truly connect with one another, soul to soul.
When we take time for silent contemplation and engage all parts of ourselves, we can hear God most eloquently. It is in the quiet that God can help us truly connect with one another, soul to soul.
Admittedly, I had spent weeks worrying about my oldest son before this day, wondering what school would look like for him with all these new barriers to sound. In the morning, as I sent him off to his classroom, I wondered aloud to myself if he would find his way. All day long, there was the persistent sound of my voice in my head saying, “This is all too hard. How will this ever work?” muting all the possibilities of good. Then, almost too quickly, the day was over, and there I was standing and waiting to pick him up, waiting to hear the answers to all my questions from his lips to my ears. God chose that moment to remind me that our answers don’t always come lips to ears.
In the end, it was only the briefest of moments, a microsecond of time really. Very quickly the clanging bells resounded once again in my ears, and my twins’ voices blended in with the sounds of the chattering crowd as they shouted, “There he is, Mommy! We see him!” It was just a microsecond of God reaching out and silencing the world just for Flynn and me, so we could speak, soul to soul.