For The Promptless – Qualia – Sounds of silence

Qualia (single form, quale) is a term that refers to the individual, conscious, subjective elements of experiences. Examples of qualia are the pain of a headache, the taste of wine, or the perceived redness of an evening sky.  In other words, qualia refers to “the way things seem to us.”

One year, I had a terrible case of flu. My ears were totally clogged. Garry took out his hearing aids and kept turning up the television until we could both hear it.

“That,” he said, “Is my world. That’s how much I can hear.” I have never forgotten. Which is good because it’s all too easy to forget if it’s not your problem.

The world is most silent while snow is falling. Otherwise, it is never really still.
The world is most silent while snow is falling. Otherwise, it is never really still.

It’s interesting how many people seem to think a hearing loss isn’t a “real” disability. Is it because it’s invisible? I can’t walk well or much, can’t lift, ride a horse or bend and am usually in some kind of pain ranging from “barely noticeable” to “wow that hurts” and none of them are visible except by x-ray. I once had a woman in the post office lash into me because I had a handicapped pass and she didn’t think I looked handicapped. It’s years later and I’m still angry. How dare she make such a judgment?

People make those judgments all the time about Garry. They assume if they call to him and he doesn’t answer, he’s a snob. Rude. Ignoring them. If I’m on the scene, I take them aside and explain that Garry cannot hear them, that they need to make sure he sees them and knows they are talking to him. I consider it one of my important jobs in our relationship because it’s hard being out there in a hearing world when you can’t.

Mostly I can hear. Usually. Most things.

I depend heavily on catching the nuances of human speech to interpret the true meaning of spoken words. Garry used to be able (with the help of hearing aids) to do that and it was important in his work as a reporter. In courtrooms, while interviewing people, it’s not just what they say, but how they say it.

I am forever asking Garry if he heard “that” whatever “that” is. Sometimes “that” is me. He will often act like he heard me even if he didn’t. Sometimes, he didn’t hear me or notice I was speaking  … or only heard a part of what I said but thinks it was everything I said. And then, there’s the “what?” factor. How many times can you say “excuse me, can you repeat that” before you feel like an idiot? I’ve been in places where I couldn’t understand people because of their accent or background noise. The answer is three.

You can ask someone to repeat it three times. After that,  we all give up.

Human speech is all there is to hear. Music, soft and loud. That funny noise coming from the car’s engine, the scratching of a dog accidentally locked in the bathroom (oops). Garry can’t hear the birds singing or me if I yell for help from down the hall. He won’t hear if I fall … so I had better not.

He also won’t hear the warning beep of the truck backing up. Or the sound of the water in our pipes to warn him someone’s using the shower. The little grinding noise of a hard drive going bad or the alarm clock ringing. All the little noises that form the background, a tapestry, the sounds of life. They are not there for him.

What does silence sound like? When you hear noise, but none of the soft sweet sounds? The explosion, but never a murmur?

To be in that silence always. It’s a different world.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.

10 thoughts on “For The Promptless – Qualia – Sounds of silence”

  1. Fantastic response to the prompt! It’s amazing how many little sounds we take for granted… and how very different our lives would be if we couldn’t hear them anymore, it would completely change how we perceive the world around us, and thus how we interact with it. If I couldn’t hear my child crying… how long would he sit there hungry, cold, or needing a new diaper before I noticed and helped him out? If I couldn’t hear my wife calling for help… If I couldn’t hear someone knocking on the door… If I couldn’t hear music… Music has been such an important part of my life and it is ingrained in how I experience things: tied to memories, motivation during an activity, shaping how I appreciate scenes in a movie, etc… without the music those scenes wouldn’t be completely different…


    1. Thank you. That’s exactly what I was trying to convey. It’s hard for him because he loves music and sound and movies and everything too. If I could give him my ears, I would.


  2. I can’t begin to imagine not having access to one of my senses.
    One of my daughters has an issue where her ears don’t clean themselves naturally like they do for most people. Wax builds up in there & eventually – I hear a lot of huhs & whats from her & the tv gets significantly louder. I then know it’s time to take her to the ENT. The first time that I took her – a few years ago – as we were walking out she was so excited that she could hear. And – she had a huge smile on her face. Now we go every 4-6 months. I try to take her in before she gets to the huhs & whats. She’s always glad to go see the ENT.


  3. Great post.
    A while ago I went mostly deaf in both ears after a bad cold and it’s amazing the difference it makes to everyday life.
    You’re right about “three” being the maximum amount of times you can ask someone to repeat themselves. After that I usually just nod my head and smile and hope they’re not telling me about some family catastrophe.


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