It’s the Little Things

Deborah is a bilateral cochlear implant recipient. She experienced familial progressive hearing loss, which presented at age 10. Her first ear was implanted in 2005, the second ear in 2008. A native New Yorker, she presently resides in the central Piedmont of North Carolina. She is involved with HLA-NC, is a volunteer at the Wildlife Rehab Center of the NC Zoo, and is a board member of the Brain Injury Association of North Carolina. In her spare time she takes courses at the local college, and enjoys walks and photography in the nearby Uwharrie National Forest

I love being out in nature, taking long walks and observing the world around me. I often capture some of what I see with my camera.  Trees, sky, colorful blooms, rivers and streams, rocks, fungi, ferns. All are a delight to my senses. However, there is nothing I enjoy photographing more than bugs. Yes, bugs. From the stingers to the crawlers, the colorful to the camouflaged, the loners and occasionally those in flagrante delicto. From the time I was a young girl, I loved the outdoors. When my family and I still lived in the city, you could find me in the back of the apartment building, climbing a small fence so I could wander around the grassy patches that remained among the asphalt yard. When we moved to the suburbs, on a dead end street that had many acres of woods adjacent to it, I was delighted! This was still a time in our culture where folks were not so afraid to let their children run around the neighborhood, playing at friend’s homes and backyards. I chose to run around in the woods, usually by myself. I was not yet so hard of hearing that it was a concern, nor was it an explanation for why I preferred solitude. I am still this way today.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how my love for observing and photographing bugs ties in with my experience as a cochlear implant recipient. I was recently in New York for a visit, and one day a friend and I went to visit some museums. She, an artist and therapist, had been curious about my fascination with bugs. As we all know, bugs do not have a great reputation. Much time and resources goes into controlling or eradicating them. No one had ever asked me about this, and I can honestly say I’d never really wondered. I thought about all the people who seem to hate these fascinating beings! Nevertheless, my response was immediate and striking to both of us: it is in the little things that we learn the most about life. The whole world can be found in one of those little creatures. From the smallest of them we can receive the greatest lessons. When I observe a spider building a web, or an ant carrying an object many times its own body weight, and when I consider the role that each bug plays in the scheme of life, I am awed and humbled.

Seemingly Inconsequential

It is the seemingly inconsequential experiences of hearing with my cochlear implants that offer the most striking images of the radical impact that “hearing again” has had on my life.  When I mentor someone who is considering getting a cochlear implant, I have found that sharing the smallest CI moments, such as the one that follows, best illuminates the impact of the ability to hear with the technology.

Six months post activation of my first cochlear implant, I was driving across Colorado to visit with clients I served in a statewide program for individuals with traumatic brain injury. I made a stop at a gas station, and went inside to buy a soda. It was a busy time, and the gal at the register was moving customers through fairly quickly. We spent about a minute together as she rang up the purchase, collected my money and made change, made a joke about the crazy weather we’d been having which made us both laugh and to which I offered a humorous rejoinder. (No, I don’t remember what it was anymore, but she thought it was funny, and that’s all we need to know J ). She wished me a good day and I left the store, still smiling over our enjoyable interaction. Suddenly, a realization hit me with such force that I came to a complete standstill: I was able to have a quick, light-hearted interaction with the girl at the gas station. Tears welled up in my eyes, and I was half laughing, half crying: I had joined the living. Before I could hear again with my cochlear implants, my days were filled with experiences I call “smile and get the hell out of there” moments. If you are not hard of hearing, you cannot imagine how difficult it is to read the lips of everyone encountered each day. Struggling to accept that along the way I left any number of people with the impression that I was very pleasant but a bit slow was a fact of my life. But now I was one of those people who could banter, who could have lots of marvelous little interactions with people if I so wished, and I recognized right then the enormous impact this was going to have on my quality of life. I am sure that until that moment I had not fully comprehended that this is what people do, this is what is meant by “small talk”. It wasn’t long before I realized that I could also eavesdrop. LOL! To my hearing friends I say: Don’t act so shocked! You do it all day long and don’t even think about it! Six years hearing again and I can confirm that it’s not all brilliant commentary. But I like being able to decide that for myself.

So, the next time you see a little bug, think of me, and stop and watch it for awhile. If it’s in your house, don’t stomp on it. Scoop it up and put it outside, and observe it. Discover all those insights and life lessons right in front of you, free of charge.

Guest Writer, Deborah Marcus

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

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Walk a Mile in My Shoes

Gonna change directions here today as the death of Whitney Houston coincides with something I am seeing more and more in the disability community.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you like Whitney Houston. What I am disappointed to see is some of the comments and “hatin’ on” this artist since her death. I actually saw on one person’s Facebook that drug addicts and alcoholics get what they deserve. “Someone with so much talent shouldn’t have wasted it”

Wow. I mean REALLY?

Unless you were thrust into fame and fortune at a relatively young age…

Unless you had to deal with the media on a daily basis, giving up any hope of privacy…

Unless you married for love and were crushed by disappointment…

Unless you raised a child as best you could in the backdrop of an industry that can be unforgiving…

Unless you developed an addiction because of life’s crushing problems and entered rehab while the whole world knew it…

Unless you made mistakes and fell back into bad habits – all while the whole world watched…

… then keep your mouth shut about Whitney Houston.

Why Does This Upset Me? Why Should it Upset YOU?

Anytime people begin to criticize and judge someone else a change takes place. Amnesia.

I rarely hear someone criticize and judge someone who is just like THEM. It usually happens when someone is different than you are. Criticizing is easy when we don’t walk in that person’s shoes. Judging is a simple task when we cannot hope to understand what really caused someone to do something when they are different than we are. We forget all the times we have been hurt for being judged and criticized by people who do not understand our own choices in life.

Wanna get me ticked off? Criticize and judge someone who chose to mitigate their disability with a service dog when you don’t live with a disability. Sometimes even others within the disability community may scratch their head and wonder why a person would choose a service dog when “they have the same disability you do”. What they may not know is that there ARE various differences between your disabilities. Your lives may be different. They may have 24/7 help that you do not have access to in your own life. Why don’t we celebrate “whatever works”?

In the hearing loss community, I know people who criticize people who don’t allow “nature to take its course” and embrace their deafness. To some, if you do not learn ASL then you are shunning a community that could be your family. For others who have accepted technology and/or surgery to stay connected to the hearing world, they may criticize those who have learned ASL for various reasons – personal reasons! I know people who criticize other people’s choices about hearing aids or cochlear implants. Why are we prone to criticize anyone who makes a different choice than what we have made for ourselves?

I think perhaps it is a form of self-protection. We may somehow feel that if someone who is very similar to us chose another path, that their choice may mean that our own path was a wrong one. It may be a form of defensiveness. If we see someone successful at living life with a disability, we may feel the need to criticize because we still have some problems with our own disability. If we see someone floundering at living life with a disability – and they chose another path? Many point and say, “I told you so”.

We could all learn to be more compassionate. We could all learn to listen more and keep our mouths shut.

When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.” –
Wayne Dyer

If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” –
Mother Teresa

What May Happen if You Reserve Judgment

If you can keep your opinions to yourself, you may just make some discoveries:

You didn’t understand why they did what they did until you got to know them better.

You misunderstood their choice

After learning more about the person, you actually agree with their choice.

After time you find that you still would have done it differently yourself, but it seems to work for them.

If you can keep your negative opinions to yourself and instead pray for and encourage that person, you may discover a…

FRIEND who has the same taste in shoes!

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal