Because of my time spent on the battlefield in Vietnam, my hearing was impaired. When I was caught in the rocket fire and artillery shelling during the fall of Saigon, it was further damaged. At first, I didn’t realize that I was having trouble hearing. Then I went to the Kennedy Center to see a play being given by the Royal Shakespeare Company and couldn’t understand what the players were saying. I had my binoculars with me, and when I watched the stage using them, I was surprised to discover that I could understand the actors. I realized that I was reading lips.

Immediately thereafter, I got hearing aids, but even when wearing them, I had difficulty understanding what people were saying unless I could see their mouths while they were talking. If they turned away from me while speaking, I had to ask them to repeat.

I managed that way for some forty-odd years. Then came the coronavirus pandemic. People started wearing masks. Two-plus years later, they’re still wearing them. That means I can’t see their mouths and read lips. So I am forever apologizing, explaining, and asking them to repeat slowly and distinctly. People as a rule comply for two or three sentences, then go back to rattling off what they want to say.

Hearing, as it turns out, was crucial for my various professions before I retired. I took a BA in music, composed reams, and then worked as a linguist in seven languages. I comforted myself that Beethoven, long before me, suffered from deafness but still composed great music. Fortunately, my ability to read in and translate from foreign languages was unaffected by my growing deafness. So I got by.

These days, I manage as well as I can, but it’s getting harder. Luckily, the work of a writer and book reviewer doesn’t require good hearing. But I still do many presentations and readings. The best I can do is to ask others to be patient with me.

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