elderly · family


I sleep with one ear open.

Owen told me about Krista Tippett and her podcast, On Being. The other day I was listening to an episode called, “Silence and the Presence of Everything.”  Gordon Hempton, her guest for that episode, said,

… sight is such an affordable luxury that eyelids evolved. We can close our eyes. OK, that’s enough of that. I’m just going to close my eyes and take a break. But not once in the fossil record do we have any evidence that a species evolved earlids. That would be far too dangerous. Animals must listen to survive.

I immediately thought of my deaf friends, and how lack of hearing must be a real safety issue.

I also thought of how I sleep — listening, listening, always listening.

Listening during sleep begins with motherhood. The new mom can’t help but listen for baby to wake up. In that half-awake/mostly-asleep state (yes, I know that mathematically that doesn’t add up), she must decide whether the noises heard require attention or not.

Now I listen for my father. After he took a bad fall, I put a baby monitor in his room so I could hear him when he gets up at night.

It was helpful when he wandered in the middle of the night — something that (thankfully) has only happened twice. It has helped when he has fallen, another rare occurrence. And it has helped for little things, like his light not working.

But I listen. In my sleep.

My mind filters through what I hear.

Safe. Safe. Safe. All is well.

The other night I jumped out of bed. Mostly asleep had become fully awake. I can’t tell you what I heard, but I knew it was something out of the ordinary. I thought it was a cry of pain. I ran downstairs and found my father sitting up on the edge of his bed with the lamp beside his bed turned on.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

He looked at me, confused. “What?” he asked. “What did you say?”

And he put his hand up to monkey with his hearing aid. He forgets to take them out at night, but he doesn’t forget to turn them off.

“Are you okay?” I repeated.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said.

I glanced around the room to see if anything was amiss, but it all looked okay.

“Did anything happen?” I asked.

“What? No, everything’s fine,” he said again. “You can go back to bed.”

I looked at the time. 1:38 AM.

I lay in bed listening for a long time. His deep steady breathing told me that he had gone back to sleep. That luxury didn’t come to me immediately.

I never figured out what the sound was — and I probably never will.

Some things remain a mystery.

Like earlids. I can’t even imagine what they would look like.


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