Smith: Searching for certainty in uncertain times

On Feb. 13, the morning phone call was not from “Braces for the Nation” to offer a free deal I can’t refuse, for back braces which I don’t need, which will scam Medicare out of at least $1,000.

Surprisingly, this call came from a friend.

“Hey,” the voice said. “It’s John.”

“Hey John,” I said.

“I read ‘Ears to Hear’ in the paper at the service station,” he said. “And I know the man you wrote about.”

“You mean Matt?”

“He’s the one.”

“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You know the same Matt, that I wrote about in the article, the one who stopped to talk to me the morning I was praying for help in deciding whether to go back to see an otolaryngologist?”

“Yes,” John said. I could hear the smile in his voice.

“The same one who had been a Green Beret, until he broke his neck, and needed doctors and therapy to regain use of his arm?”

“Yes,” John said.

“Who inspired me to actually go to the otolaryngologist?”

“The same,” John replied.

“That’s amazing,” I answered.

“He trains police dogs down here on my farm,” John explained. “I called him this morning. Matt’s buying police dogs in Italy.”

“Wow,” I said.

He chuckled. “I bought six copies of The Record to give him when he gets back.” He paused again. “By the way, I’ve experienced hearing loss, too. “

“I’ve known you for 35 years, but I never knew that,” I said.

“Forty years ago, I was standing by a locomotive horn, checking the sandbox,” he said, “when the engineer blew the horn right in my ear. The blast disoriented me so; I couldn’t even get off the engine. One of my buddies came to help me down.”

“I got over the brain fog but I never got the hearing back in one ear. I’ve consulted physicians and audiologists, but no one has been able to help my bad ear. But they do help preserve the hearing I have left in my good one. I’ve tried several hearing aids, too. But they all sound like the speaker in a drive-in movie.”

“That bad?” I asked.

“That bad,” he answered. “So I get by without a hearing aid. In a plane I put my bad ear near the window, so that my good one faces the person beside me. And on the ground, I always turn my good ear toward the person I want to hear.”

“I had no idea you had hearing loss,” I said.

I wish I had told John that my Zerenas don’t sound anything like a drive-in speaker, and that even though they use a speaker, the sounds are of extremely high fidelity.

After we hung up, I decided to find out more about Matt, so I kept an eye out for him on my walks. Several times, near his house I saw pickup trucks carrying dog cages, and handlers talking to one another, but I never saw Matt.

Back home, one morning I suddenly had an “aha” moment — that I needed to do something to help people making decisions with bad information. I had no idea how this would work out.

That afternoon, while accompanying a friend to Novant Matthews, my eyes were drawn to a book on the waiting room table. I thumbed through it from the back, and finally began making notes on a chapter titled “The Type R Individual.” I found the “Type R” person to be a resilient one who has an “aha” moment regarding a problem, which causes him to forsake his comfort zone, and to enter a new phase filled with disruption, and even chaos, which he must view as only a challenge. Not as a problem, or an inconvenience, but a challenge, which he will overcome.

“Maybe I was in first stage of ‘Type R’ when I prayed for guidance on whether to see an otolaryngologist about my hearing loss, a few weeks ago,” I said to myself. “Then Matt showed up — unexpectedly — to tell me how he overcame the adversity of a broken neck in Afghanistan, that had required many physicians and therapists to bring this Green Beret’s left arm back to life. So, I began to walk through the steps that led to wearing hearing aids.”

“Type Rs also share what they have learned,” I remembered. “I’ve already told two friends how much they could save on hearing aids, and still get excellent service. Then I was led to this book on dealing with adversity by considering it a challenge.”

The next day, I spoke to another person in my accountant’s office.

“I’m wearing hearing aids for the first time,” I said. “The sound is clear and strong. Wearing them just makes me feel better.”

“I can’t tell you’re wearing a hearing aid,” she said.

“I am, though,” I said, pointing to the translucent cable from the case atop my ear to the micro-speaker inside it.

“It’s almost invisible,” she said.

“I have hearing loss, too,” she said, after a while. “Since I was a little girl.”

“Really?”

She nodded. “I was playing outside, when a bumblebee flew in my ear and stung me. After the buzzing stopped, I never heard a sound through that ear again.

“I got a hearing aid later, and it helped some, but that was a long time ago. Maybe a new one would make me feel better, too.”

“It might,” I said.

The next morning, about 8:30, walking down Lawyers Road, I saw a black Jeep approach on the other side of the road, then slow down.

Probably someone needing directions, I figured. But when the Jeep stopped I saw Matt grinning from behind the wheel.

“We share a friend,” he smiled.

“We sure do,” I said. “I wrote an article for The Record about our talk. He saved some newspapers for you.”

“I haven’t seen them yet,” he said. “I’ve been so busy.

“But John read the story to me — over the phone while I was in Italy. It had been a hard day, and the story reminded me of the right way to look at things.”

He paused again, “My crew is shipping out in a couple of days.”

“Afghanistan?” I asked.

His smile showed he could answer.

“I’d like to go,” he said. “But I just can’t, this time. I’ve probably got several thousand miles of travel scheduled in the next two weeks.”

“I don’t guess you have much time to read,” I said.

“More than you might think,” he responded

“Oh?”

“I spend a lot of time in airplanes,” Matt said.

“I ran into a book you might like,” I said. “I can’t remember enough specifics, but I could email them to you.”

Matt reached into the glove box and drew out some papers, the last one a gas ticket from October 2018, which he turned over, and printed his email address with a felt tipped pen.

“You know, Matt,” I said as I took the ticket, “the book talks about the thing you and I are searching for.”

“Oh?”

“Certainty in uncertain times,” I said.

Matt looked at me intently, then said, “My Dad uses that phrase.”

“That’s amazing,” I answered.

“Thanks,” he said.

Thank you, I replied as he drove away.

I thought to myself, Matt never has a lot of uncertainty. He’s probably a Type R already, for he looks only at opportunities, and seems to carry a spirit of peace with him. But even he needs a reminder now and then.

It is certain that we all will have problems, it is certain that there is an omniscient One, who knows the solutions. If we ask, it is certain He will help us transform those problems into challenges.

And we must remember that challenges can be met, even the mundane ones caused by “Braces for the Nation.”

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Leon Smith is a contributing columnist to The Anson Record. Write to him P.O. Box 124, Marshville, NC 28103.

Leon Smith is a contributing columnist to The Anson Record. Write to him P.O. Box 124, Marshville, NC 28103.