“Hello darkness my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again…” So begins the Simon and Garfunkle song “The Sound of Silence”. They go on to sing “…within the sound of silence; And touched the sound of silence; Disturb the sound of silence; And echoed in the wells of silence; And whispered in the sound of silence.” I loved that song. I haven’t got a clue what in the world the artists were trying to say with it, but the beauty and harmony that they produced was haunting, and continues to inspire me over four decades since I first heard it. For the last twenty seven years my own sounds of silence have made some different impressions on me, and those would be frustration, anxiety, and melancholy among others. That is because for that period of time I have never enjoyed the blessing of hearing silence.
I have tinnitus. Tinnitus is a disorder which manifests itself as any of a number of noises in your ears, or to be more accurate in your head. My sound is a high-pitched ringing, but roaring, clicking, humming or a sound like rushing wind are only some of the sounds that a person with tinnitus might hear. The causes of tinnitus are known in some cases, such as hearing loss or trauma, and in many cases unknown. I fall into the latter category. I was not in the artillery, did not work on a flight line, nor played guitar for a rock band while standing in front of two story speakers. I simply awoke one night at 2 AM with the most annoying ringing in my ears that refused to go away. I managed to get back to sleep, but when I awoke later in the morning to go to work the ringing was still there. It still is.
I went to an ear, nose and throat specialist and he ruled out any observable physical reason for the sound which was now my constant companion. There was little that he could do for me and referred me to a research clinic at a fancy university hospital nearby. They added nothing other than to put me in touch with a tinnitus support group. I attended two meetings of that group and never went back. I have never been in the company of a more depressed and depressing group of people in my life. Tinnitus will do that to you.
Being a Christian, I prayed often and fervently for God to lift this load off of me, but as He did with the apostle Paul, God demurred and has chosen to let me continue to deal with this thorn in my flesh. At one point I followed the instructions of the apostle James and asked the elders of my church to pray over me and anoint me with oil. The result was the same; no let up in the ringing. A short while later I was sitting in a chair in my pastor’s office whining about God’s lack of responsiveness to my problem. “Have you asked God to give you the grace to endure it?” he asked. “Hadn’t thought of that” was my reply. We dropped to our knees on the spot and prayed as my pastor suggested, and the oppressive weight of my mental response to my affliction was lifted instantly, although the sound remained. This I could live with.
And so it went until last year, when the noise began to ramp up. I noticed while walking one day that I could hear the ringing over the ambient noise, and it has slowly built up to a veritable crescendo which assaults my ears as I sit and write this story. Once again I felt the mix of anxiety and fear rising in my gut, and this time it was while I was trying to control my blood pressure using natural methods after a heart attack and bypass surgery five months earlier. The stress was not making that job any easier.
The solution to my tinnitus problem came to me in the most unexpected fashion. One night I was lying in my bed trying to meditate and I realized that the sound was only in my ears; it was not in the majority of my head. Then I began to search around my body and found to my delight that I couldn’t hear any sound in my chest, my arms, legs, feet; anything other than the very small space of my two ears. The next thing that I discovered was that I could hear the silence in those parts of my body that were not ringing! As crazy as it sounds, the revelation was to me stunning. I reveled in a silence that had been there all along but which I had been missing because I focused on the bad and annoying part and overlooked the good.
None of this is to say that I wouldn’t do almost anything to be free of that horribly annoying sound which never leaves my ears and probably won’t until the minute that I draw my last breath. I would do it in a heartbeat. What I do have to offer to fellow sufferers of tinnitus is that by staying with it and finding out how to mentally manage my tinnitus in my own way I am able to live with it and operate more or less in a normal manner. Maybe this was God once again giving me the grace to live well with the thorn in my flesh that He just refuses to remove. I hope that God will give His grace to anyone else who reads this who suffers with tinnitus as I do. Hang in there. It can be survived with joy.