Tuesday, January 03, 2006

it's oh so quiet

ever had a day when you realized how little you need to talk?

fighting some cold, and my voice is delightfully husky. went to the gym this morning, didn't even have to thank anyone for sliding my card, since everthing is automated now. took my class, slapped sufjan stevens on the old iPod, and went home. had a bunch of corp writing to do, so i did it, while my cat purred quietly at my feet. i usually have practice on tuesday nights, but not tonight. decided against a night out and went domestic; cleaned, went grocery shopping, reframed.

all this peace seems relatively poignant today, as i watched my order from netflix called Sound and Fury. it's a documentary about cochlear implants, and i've been wanting to see it for a long time.

my friend mary, a friend of amy's from ND, got cochlear implants back in 2002. since then, i've been pretty fascinated by the recent debate between the hearing deaf and profoundly deaf (real term). this story follows a family who has several deaf members, and new children are born to a few siblings. the youngest are both deaf - but one was born to a hearing brother, and one was born to a deaf brother. they vigorously, emotionally debate what to do since the new advances of implants.

before you judge and immediately think - of course you get the implant! - it's much more complex than that. see the movie if you can, because it does a good job of showing you what deaf culture is like, and why deaf people feel like that their community is being left behind. it's all very parallel to losing your racial culture, your socio-economic culture, what that means. you'll have your opinions, but you'll also get it, and this stuff - like anything loaded - is rooted in emotional, difficult decision.

my uncle bobby was deaf. my grandmother caught german measles while she was carrying him, and it incapacitated his eardrums. my mom grew up very differently than she lives now, in a trailer with 5 siblings in north carolina. to paint an easy picture, imagine any pat conroy novel, with toeheaded youngsters playing in creeks and skipping stones. my mom's father and mother struggled, and my grandfather's abuse led to no communication with the brother. he forbid signing in the house. though my mom was frustrated and felt guilt, they didn't have many tools at their disposal to create any language but their own.

this delayed bobby's capability of learning - he couldn't sign at all, and nature and nurture were both playing against him. every christmas, my uncle came over to our house and was wonderful; he lip-read well, but had trouble communicating, so often at day's end he'd be found sitting alone. because of this, i learned how to sign in college. besides being generally interested, i thought it would be a nice surprise to come home one day and show my mom and her closest sister, lois, and help them learn sign too.

i've lost mostly everything i knew, though like any language, i can pick it up quickly if it's shown to me. one summer, the basic knowledge i had first learned was then put to use as my mom, aunt and i went to visit bobby in his assisted living home.

if it needs to be said, i don't get nervous about many things, but here? i was absolutely terrified. i was going to speak the equivalent of broken english to a man who had been shunned by his own father because of sheer prejudice, and it had altered his life profoundly. what if he was mad at me? what if it was somehow insulting? we walked in the door and and he waved from inside the window. i was happy to see him. he came out and we walked into the elevator together.

tara, do it, my mom said with her lips away, secretly urging me to talk to bobby. so i turned to him and began to sign. i know very little, i said, but i can talk with you.

bobby's hands covered his mouth. his eyes filled with tears and he stared at me. we stood in silence for what seemed like forever, but it was only seconds. he dropped his hands. he was smiling as big as a person can. his hands began to fly.

slow down, slow down! i signed, laughing super hard. i'm not too good at this yet, very little, very little. he would giggle, and say things to me in very basic asl. i told him i knew i wasn't very good, but he was so encouraging. it's so good, he said.

my uncle died a few years ago, and i have wondered what his life would have been had he been able to make the decision so many struggle with today. when mary got cochlear implants, she was very good about getting the information. mary was raised "hearing-deaf", which means she was not taught sign, but taught to solely use her voice. after the implant, she told us all something interesting that's since stayed with me. everything has a sound, she said. it's overwhelming. as a hearing person, you learn to ignore sounds and filter important sounds in. implants have to be constantly adjusted for this. mary worked in a corporate office, next to a soda machine. people putting change in and having soda cans slam to the bottom was a noise that she absolutely HATED, and the frequency hit her hard. when she'd go home at night, she'd flip on syndicated seinfeld and ask what the annoying noise was. her husband kevin would tell her it was a laugh track, and she'd wonder why people would ever need that. did they need to be told when something was funny? she never had.

on days like today when i don't talk as much, i notice how much i listen, and i've thought about everything outside my busy window near clark street, passing me by.

oh - and the most beautiful sound in the world to mary, and still a running joke? a flushing toilet. she loved it.

beauty is most certainly everywhere.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Meg said...

Damn-- I'm not used to you making me cry! Good story. Snuffle.

9:14 AM  
Blogger eileen said...

Oh, the story about your uncle is so best! Sniff....

12:17 PM  
Blogger Lindberg said...

I sure love TDs Blog, but it's getting to long for me to read the whole thing in one sitting. I need to space it out over time.

12:53 PM  
Anonymous Murray said...

Tara D, man...you are a seriously beautiful writer and thinker.

It's Murray here...and I've waited long enough. I'm coming out.

I read your blog

there. i said it.

12:58 PM  
Blogger christine said...

Well done TD....I felt like I was in the elevator with you.
The controversy is so hard. I remember a story about some lesbians who were deaf and from virginia who wanted to concieve. They wanted to pick a deaf sperm donor in the hopes that their child would be deaf. This was obviously a stir because it is ethically acceptable to refuse medical treatment, but to actively create a child with a "medical problem." but it wasn't a problem to them....it was a culture.
Anyway, I loved the read and I disagree with lindberg....I'll take the longs with the shorts.

(Bout time Murray.)

2:55 PM  
Blogger tara d. said...

[aww, don't worry about lindberg, everyone. to know him, you'd leave it to lindberg to find something negative to say about puppies/rainbows/ribbons. that's what i say. ;) to you: just read the shorties, friend! don't read it, short attentio span! but c'mon, it's not like i was recounting yes, dear. throw me a bone.]

really nice of all of you - here and e-mail - for feedback and interest. it's interesting, isn't it? chris, that's so hard.

and murray - i can't believe you came out today. i almost wrote a post last week entitled "murray and ashley: blowing it", and didn't. way to avoid confrontation, and i'm so flattered you read this!

3:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Long-time reader, first time poster.

I'm having such a crappy day/month/year (thus far) and I love reading your blog and this was very touching, and I mean thisin the best of ways, human. Thanks, Tara.

Now go to sleep.

JRChin

3:57 PM  
Blogger Dave Levin said...

Holy balls....thank G*d I read the entire entry before posting some incredibly insensitive remark related to cochlear implants.
love you!
D

6:58 PM  
Blogger tara d. said...

jason chin rules.

dave, you're always insensitive about cocklear implants. cocklear.

cocklear.

8:16 PM  
Blogger kris said...

Lovely story, TD. I'm so out of the loop; I had no idea Mary Hep got implants. I love that she loves the toilet flushing... :)

8:42 PM  
Blogger Lindberg said...

Well, Now I've read it (Proper read It, not just skimmed it looking for things I could make fun of). And I agree it's a wonderful story(ies)...It's a sad and beautiful world. innit?

3:53 PM  

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