Retreating or Engaging?

I recently read an article at HSLDA that really caused me to think about whether or not I “retreat” or “engage”.

I love to look up definitions of words that I already know, as I am many times surprised by a new definition or use of a word I have been using for some time.

As always, there are numerous definitions for words. It often depends on the context and how you choose to use the word.

For “retreat“, I liked the following definition:
“the act of withdrawing, as into safety or privacy; retirement; seclusion”. For the word “engage“, I chose these definitions: “to occupy the attention or efforts of (a person or persons)” and to attract and hold fast.

This is a picture from 2004 with my friends Art N. and Linda K. from Florida. They are both deaf and blind. We are pictured with their guide dogs Dusty and Charcoal. I am holding one of Art’s famous embossed “hug coupon” cards. He believes in the power of a “hug”, and gives them out liberally.

Art and Linda would find it very easy to retreat from life. They each have two major disabilities, and neither were born with them. Both acquired them later in life; Linda began losing her sight as a child, and her hearing as a teen. Art began losing both senses as an adult. It would be pretty simple for them to hole up in a “safe” place and have someone take care of their needs. Many would choose to withdraw from life, as it can be a very difficult thing to interact with people not being able to see or hear well. Art has a unilateral hearing loss, and Linda is one of the few bilateral cochlear implant users that I have met. This doesn’t mean that they communicate easily, however, and it takes patience and “work” to communicate with others.

The internet has been a wonderful tool for them, and it was through an online support group that I first met them. I was so taken with them and their very special abilities, I became a very willing friend and have met them several times in person.

Art and Linda reach out to others. They engage people where they are at… whether an online support group or through the numerous places they go to during the week. They eat at several different restaurants whose owners and patrons know them by name, Linda gets her nails done, they go to get their haircut often, shop for groceries, and just got back from voting in Florida’s primaries. To meet them is to be forever changed. They rub off on a person in a really wonderful way.

They chose to engage others and have had a profound impact on the lives of others. They chose not to retreat and hide from the world.

I have to admit that there are times that I wish I could just stay at home and hide from others. It can be very difficult telling the SAME people the SAME things about how best to communicate with me. I suppose in some ways I have retreated from certain functions, but I really believe it is more of a way to preserve my sanity than it was to retreat from fear! A friend of mine named Sandy, tried very hard to include me in every function available to other teachers. She made it possible for me to utilize my personal FM system, insisted everyone use a microphone attached and linked to that same device, and made sure meetings were held in a round table format. However, there were certain things like “holiday parties” that I had to put my foot down and insist on not going too! Sometimes what is “gained” (that is, going to a party, eating fattening foods, playing silly games, hanging out with my peers), is not worth the price that must be paid when you have a hearing loss. The stress, fatigue, and “dangers” I would encounter… were not worth the risk! (Dangers? Have you ever tried balancing a plate, the leash of your assistance dog all while experiencing vertigo from Meniere’s disease? Smile! Yikes!)

However, as much as possible I believe I have tried to “engage” people. I teach classes and hope to relay valuable information about hearing loss to others. I speak at functions when invited and try to represent the population I am a part of in a positive way. I take part in national initiatives that seek to make hearing loss a matter of national concern. I try to make a difference where I’m “at”… where I live.

Each of us have unique gifts and talents. We also each have unique problems that can create barriers to our engaging people. We may be tempted to retreat.

I challenge you as I challenge myself each and every day… go out an engage someone. Attract their attention and hold them fast by occupying their attention and interest. Retreat is sometimes necessary. Just don’t STAY there…

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary

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