After escaping under fire during the fall of Saigon in April 1975, I didn’t realize I had suffered ear damage during the North Vietnamese shelling of the city. I’d been holed up with two of my communicators in our office at the northern edge of Saigon, and we were severely shelled, first with rockets, then with artillery. I discovered the failing when I attended a performance by the Shakespeare Theatre in the Kennedy Center Opera House. I was annoyed that I couldn’t understand what the actors were saying. I had my binoculars with me, and I discovered that when I could see the mouths of the actors, I could understand them—I was reading lips.

I subsequently had my hearing tested and found out that I was partially deaf. As a result, I got hearing aids, which I’ve worn ever since. But I find that even when I’m wearing them, I can’t understand other speakers if I cannot see their mouths while they’re talking.

That was not much of a problem until the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Then everyone took to wearing masks to protect themselves and others from infection. I discovered, not too surprisingly, that when people had their mouths covered, I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I was forever asking them to repeat, slowly and loudly, until I could make out their words.

As I have aged, my hearing loss has become more pronounced. But it’s somewhat less bothersome now because people expect elders to be hard of hearing. They often speak slowly, distinctly, and loudly without ever being asked.

My deafness is both a curse and a blessing. I often fail to hear what others hear and end up looking foolish. On the other hand, I’m spared annoying noises that used to irritate me.

Sometimes, even failings have a benefit.

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