Big Life Small Life

By the time I got my cochlear implant late last fall, my professional and social life had become a shadow of its former self.

Severe hearing loss so constricted my communication that I could only relax when I was alone. After all, I could still hear myself think. So I found ways to be alone, work alone, retreat. And who could blame me? The risks of not hearing correctly, especially in a professional setting but with family as well, were enormous. My strategy was to minimize risk, protect myself, shrink my life. Be my own lonely flower.


Then the cochlear implant happened, the surgery, the implant, the receiver, the programming, things getting louder and louder, more discernible by the day until I can go to lunch in a noisy restaurant and I can have a conversation with a friend without guessing what he is saying and hoping I’m right.

What an incredible thing!

I could have a big life again. I could re-inflate, re-hydrate, expand, enlarge, unfold and blossom. After all, I just got handed my big life back. What would be the excuse for staying small?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this. This will sound strange but I think it’s true. A person makes a new life when they have a disability and it can become oddly precious. Oh, it’s not the accommodations that make a disability precious, it’s the recreation of oneself that a disability requires. It’s learning to separate who one is as a human being from poorly functioning ears or eyes or legs and then creating a new identity that doesn’t include perfect hearing or 20/20 eyesight or legs that can run a marathon.

It took me years but I finally ended up liking myself with a disability. I taught myself to do without knowing what was going on around me; I lived in my own space, heard only what I made an intentional effort to hear, lived the ‘life of the mind,’ my mind. I took to regarding myself as just a ‘person in the world.’ I just wanted to be a person in the world. Intact. Moving through and beyond hearing people, living in my tiny house with soundproof walls. It was my way of coping, my way of keeping my integrity.

But now I need to let the small life go. It’s time to be a person in a world that has other people. I think I need to make myself a big life again.



The Daily Post: Pensive

Rumination on a Tree

Tree from window

Today at Meijer’s, I looked at bird feeders that I could hang from our old tree once its big branches are lopped off. They will leave the trunk standing like a wooden saguaro cactus, chopped arms waiting to catch something heavy and important falling from our blue sky going grey with winter coming.

We have gone back and forth with the City’s forestry department after my husband negotiated a reprieve last week. He stood in the street with seven men, their four City trucks idling, the orange cones marking off the street where no one should park, the chipper warming up down the block. He convinced them that the tree didn’t have to be cut down that very day. They looked up at the tree and just simply agreed.

Later first one expert forester and then another came to examine the tree. Not now, but later, one said. The other not so sure. Because we stood with arms folded but with friendly faces and because he could tell that acres of our history lived in the small space under the tree and because he knew we would never see a new tree grow up, he decided on more investigation. An aerial view of the tree, a look at the depth of its Vee.

I don’t know what he’ll see in the Vee. In my child’s mind, there would be elves dancing there. They would leave small clues behind like the thumbprints my brother made me believe were footprints of the elves under the bush in the front yard when I was a kid. But I don’t think there are elves. I think there is probably something hollow or something rotten and it will be like so many things that you know aren’t good but you wish they were. Like marriages and friendships, jobs you once loved.

The tree seems to be depressing me an inordinate amount. Maybe because I look at it all the time. Maybe I should do like in the O. Henry story, The Last Leaf, and have someone paint the tree on my window. Then everyone stays alive as long as we want.

I thought of stringing Christmas lights on the big stumpy arms but people walking on the sidewalk would trip over the extension cord. When I thought the tree was saved, I wanted to tie a giant purple ribbon around it as in “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple.” But now I don’t know. It could be interpreted as protest and we might already be in enough trouble about this tree.

It’s clear to me that tree angst is affecting other parts of my life. Like my writing. I feel stalled and unhappy until I figure out how I feel about this tree which, like everything else, I am doing by writing about it finally.

I am convinced that my sadness about the tree is both appropriate and trivial. That I, of all people, sitting here writing about the problems of homelessness every day while I sit in an office in a three story house built in 1913 with a 75-year old tree in front, ought to have a sense of the irony of the situation. I am, after all, on the inside looking out.

But then I think about the tree’s impending demise. The forester said, “I don’t want to condemn your tree.” I fear that our tree will, in fact, be condemned. We are looking at a soon to be condemned tree and part of me just wants to hurry it up. Find our own saw. Just be done with it. Not wait to learn what is in the Vee.

Just put an end to this tree and plant a new one. It happens all the time. All over the world.

Things have to die to make room for new things.