I’m going to write my friend a letter
On paper, with ink
Indelible which means

It could last forever
Folded in thirds and stored in the pages of a favorite book
He might show his children my letter

I’ll tell him how I’m feeling
In ways that will stand the test of time
However long that is

I can’t change my mind tomorrow
If my letter is already in flight, a wing on soft paper
Like in the old days, blue tissue folded in on itself

It feels serious, this letter writing
Like I better mean what I say

The Heart of the Matter

Transformative experiences sometimes come by the teaspoonful. They are little wee bits of reorientation and redefinition.

This week’s transformative tidbit is this: I don’t need to keep apologizing for something I can’t control and isn’t my fault.

It’s almost a reflex for me to preface every statement or request to someone with the words, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that,” or “I’m sorry, could you say that again?” or “”I’m sorry, I have a hearing disability so….” I’ve apologized to individuals and to rooms full of people.

So last week I was at a retirement party where a deaf colleague sat down at our table with his pen and paper and started a conversation. He wrote. We wrote. He is a mid-career housing advocate, very knowledgeable, involved, very focused, a little intense, an impressive guy when he is using a sign language interpreter and when he’s just geared up with his pen and paper. When we got up to go eat, he took his communication kit to some other folks and continued chatting.

My husband and I talked about it all the way home, about what guts it took to be deaf and walk into a room packed with elected officials and directors of agencies and just talk to whomever using a pen and paper. So impressed was I by this that I wrote my colleague an email the next morning telling him how much I admired his fearlessness. He was gracious but pointed out that it was probably me who had the tougher time since I was still trying to hear people. He could just space out, work on his grocery list, while the mayor was giving a speech rather than strain to understand what he was saying.

Nothing about what my deaf friend said had a whiff of apology about it. Or the self-pity and inadequacy that floats around the apology raft all the time. Why are you apologizing, I asked myself, if you don’t think you’ve got something to apologize for? What is it? You’re not perfect? You’re apologizing for your current imperfection which then presupposes that, at some time in the past, you actually were perfect? Really?

I thought about another colleague, the executive director of a community-based theatre company, who was injured in a terrible car accident many years ago and often uses a wheelchair. Have I ever heard her apologize for using a wheelchair? No, the wheelchair is just there. Like my deaf friend’s pen and paper. These are things that just are. They aren’t choices, preferences, things that my two friends are doing to convenience themselves and inconvenience others. These are the things that are part of their presence in the world and they make no apology. Role models sitting right on a teaspoon waiting for me to partake.

So today I decided to drop all apology from discussion about my hearing disability. My first opportunity came very soon when a potential client emailed to schedule a phone conference. Normally, my replay would begin with the words, “I’m sorry, but…”

Not this time. This time I just dealt with the facts. This is the situation and here’s my strategy. “My hearing disability makes conducting business on the phone impossible; however, here are three alternatives…”

It sounds like a little thing, leaving off that one little phrase, the reflect “I’m sorry,” but it’s not. I’m just done with feeling bad about my situation.

I am a person with a hearing disability. It’s who I am. No apologies.

Talking to My Son in the Car Might Get Us Killed

It flashed on me today while I was zooming down the freeway sandwiched between a very large truck carrying what looked like a giant metal outhouse held down by a dozen canvas straps and a concrete construction wall that if I turned my head one more time to read my son’s lips while he was telling me how a passenger on the Lake Michigan ferry that he works on tried to convince him to look into being Amish that the price of comprehension could be extreme.

It would end up being the last crazy story he ever told and I ever heard. A good one, though. Who knew that Amish proselytized and on boats, no less?

I wish I could have been there (on the boat) when my son with his wild black hair and thoroughly Central American face informed the nice Amish man that he was, in fact, Jewish. We didn’t get to that part of the story, too bad because my son always has a fair amount of glee when he gets to spring his Nicaraguan/Jewish conundrum on strangers and the glee is contagious. My son makes me laugh. He has since he was a very little boy and he’s now 27. He’s funny and chatty and tells a fine story.

He’s a gem, my son, but I can’t understand what he is saying 90% of the time. His voice is very low with a lot of reverberation, as they say in the hearing loss business. But unlike other people who will allow me to nod and smile in the interest of not having to have everything repeated, he’ll stop at the critical junctures in his story and ask, “Did you hear that, Ma?” Consideration can be so annoying sometimes.

So our wild, potentially life-ending careening through town today ended up at my audiologist where I’d decided to take him and his voice.

There are so many people I don’t care if I ever hear again, so many blowhards and whiners who, if they all fell silent, I wouldn’t miss for a single second. But this son of mine is not one of those people.

If I can’t hear this particular person, it would be a very big loss. For both of us. Our relationship would have to depend entirely on history. Old stories, I guess. That and texts. Thank God for texting.

The audiologist recalibrated my hearing aids to reduce the bass and increase the treble and added a new program to them that essentially changes the tonal directionality of the aids; this is all done using incredibly sophisticated computer programs. We did manual adjustments of sound and tone to try to get the right combination so I could hear this one cheerful, funny person without driving us into a concrete wall. We talked, the three of us, about the nature of my hearing loss, how it’s about word comprehension more than amplification, nerve damage. “Your mother has a very difficult type of hearing loss.”

I’d never heard her say that before.

“It could be worse, Ma.”

“Seriously? How could it be worse?”

The audiologist looked up from her thick file, years of my tests and progress notes. “You could be completely deaf.”

I could be. But I’m not. Not yet.

As long as I keep my eyes on the road, I’ll get to hear a few more stories.


#74/100: 74th in a series of 100 in 100

The Stigma of Hearing Loss is an essay that discusses the complex issues and emotions related to hearing impairment.