Posted by: reformedmusings | March 24, 2008

Vanity vs. Gratitude in Life

Paul laments the suffering in our mortal forms in 2 Cor 5:4:

For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. (NKJV)

Though we long for the resurrection bodies which will be ours as his elect in eternity by God’s grace, we must, as Paul poignantly recognized, contend with our fallen and degenerating ones here on this earth. In our youth, we rarely take time to consider the wondrous mechanism that houses us on our earthly journey. It is only when that divinely-designed frame starts to falter under use or age due to the corruption of the fall that we come to appreciate those finer, day-to-day wonders. It’s like Joni Mitchell sang in Big Yellow Taxi four decades ago, “you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone.” For more modern Rock buffs, that sentence was also the title and refrain of a hit ballad performed later by the Philadelphia metal band Cinderella.

Tied together with our vanity, this paints a potentially grim picture of growing in maturity over the years. Although Indiana Jones once commented that it wasn’t the years, it was the miles, both take their toll in this fallen world. Vanity comes into play both in owning up to new limitations as well as to the possible means to alleviate them. But it shouldn’t.

Personal case in point: Years of close-up jet noise, especially during engine-running crew changes, took a heavy toll on my high-frequency hearing. Although this happened a few years ago, it wasn’t until recently that the hearing loss started to affect my job. Hearing soft, higher-pitched voices has become very difficult in social environments like embassy receptions. Although I’d gotten by on a flight waiver for years, what doesn’t matter on the flight line can make a big difference in the reception line. That piled on the last straw, because I will not let anything in my power jeopardize mission accomplishment, whether in the air or on the ground in diplomatic circles.

So, I beat feet over to the audiology clinic at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for some auxiliary ears. After some detailed testing, the audiologist started to quiz me on my feelings about wearing hearing aids. I was honestly surprised by this conversation. I guess the idea was that even if I needed the help, I might pass for appearances sake? Well, not a chance. It hadn’t even occurred to me. Sad to think that people might actually refuse help because of a fear of what others may think.

The staff at Walter Reed did great work. My hearing loss profile is challenging because I go from perfectly normal hearing at lower frequencies to a massive loss at the next-tested higher frequency. No physical system can make a sharp corner like that (think sine waves), so the audiologist had to do some creative curve fitting to approximate the corners and slopes. The Unitron Yuu Moda II hearing aids he chose are digital and specialized for high frequency augmentation, so are especially well suited to my situation. The doc did a great job programming the hearing aids to match the requirement.

Out the door, the difference was amazing. As the audiologist warned me, the world sounded significantly different (including my own voice) and not all the new “noise” is welcome. In fact, the first month’s test run was a bit of overkill–it gave me super hearing at the high end, which although it helped me track cats walking across carpet, grew very annoying. Common noises with significant high frequency content “rang” like a small bell.

The doc also tried out some new customized ear inserts for the hearing devices which focused the corrective frequencies and help prevent undesirable feedback. This also had two tradeoffs: 1) they blocked a lot of the ambient noise, to it became almost like listening to a radio in your ear until I got used to it. This also made it difficult to use just one side alone as it sounded too artificial. And 2) with my outside ear shape, it made comfortably positioning the behind-the-ear hearing aids very difficult. The tiny sound tubes were wearing part of my ear raw. This didn’t keep me from wearing them for 18 hours a day, but they did become a bit uncomfortable after about 8 hours.

Although the Unitron Yuu Moda II hearing devices learn over time, they still needed a course correction last week when the doc made several manual adjustments. First was to turn down the gain a bit on the sharp spikes at high frequencies. The Moda II hearing aids are able to compensate soft and spiked inputs separately, which really helped. That cured the ringing and related issues. The second change replaced the custom ear inserts with the older dome setup. This had two advantages: 1) it allowed more flexibility in routing the sound tubes; and 2) they provided a more natural sound since they don’t block the ambient noise very much. The more open structure, though, also aggravates the feedback issues. The digital circuitry compensates for this nicely, but it also takes out some of the frequency augmentation as a side effect. The verdict is still out on how much effect that will have overall, but all human technology involves compromise.

I’m still having some difficulty with the sound tube routing, but not as bad as before. I’m also still deciding if we turned down the gain too much on the spike inputs. Since the sound is more natural now without the custom inserts, it’s hard to make comparisons with the previous setup. Time and testing in the natural environment will tell.

So why did I bother blogging on this? I’ve tossed around the idea of writing this post for several weeks now. At first, I didn’t think that it would really help anyone. I eventually decided that just the possibility of helping even one person was justification enough to write.

My primary motivation is to help others overcome the vanity obstacles to technological aids as we age. One of my favorite music lines is from Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s Suite: Judy Blue Eyes: “Do not let the past remind us of what we are not now.” Times change, we change, but God never changes and is still sovereign and gracious. He has graciously blessed us with the ability to make tools to minimize the impact of these natural losses in sight, hearing, etc. We should not be afraid or ashamed to avail ourselves of His gracious provision. As Patsy Clairmont wisely observed, normal is just a setting on your dryer.

When I read the technical and other material on the Yuu Moda II hearing aids, I noticed that all of the brochures pictured significantly older users. That alone could impact the vanity factor. While I’m not to their apparent ages yet, each of our situations is different. Some of our troops (most much younger than I) returning from the war have suffered serious hearing loss due to IED and other explosions, as well as from using larger weapons in the closed spaces of urban warfare. I pray that they will feel comfortable using hearing aids or anything else they need to compensate for whatever they’ve lost in the service of our great nation. I also pray that others will encourage them with gratitude in their hearts for these men and women’s faithful service.

If my favorable experience with hearing aids at the half-century mark helps even one person to seek the help that will improve their quality of life, then this post will have been worth the effort. God graciously provided us with amazing technology to help compensate for our physical weaknesses. I believe that to refuse this help would show a lack of gratitude for His gracious provision.

All experiences of loss should also help us and those around us to appreciate the natural bodies that God graciously provided us. The human body’s complexity and intricate design stands unmatched by anything that we, His creatures, have yet to create ourselves. As much creative talent as He has blessed us with, we cannot come close to the beauty that He created for us to enjoy in this life. Given the magnitude of these blessings now, the glorious grandeur of our coming life in heaven worshiping Him is unimaginable. As Paul wrote in his first letter, our suffering here is nothing in comparison with the glorious riches that await us in heaven:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor 4:16-18; ESV)

Soli Deo Gloria!

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