From a very early age, I was fascinated with language.
I was speaking in full, complete sentences before I even got my first tooth in. My parents described me as being like a tiny elderly person, a sort of Benjamin Button character, gummy and toothless but coherent and eager to communicate. I learned to read at age four. My first book was “Fox in Box.” Shortly thereafter, my mom started reading The Hobbit to me, which quickly cemented my love for fiction, and Tolkien’s linguistic prowess gave me a sense of the great power of language.
When I was in first grade I was diagnosed with a recessive-genetic condition called Mondrian-Alexander that gives me 12-17% hearing loss in both of my ears. It was a condition I’d had since birth; we just didn’t know about it until then. My sister shares the condition. The two of us were fitted with hearing aids, and I was told I’d be much better at socializing and understanding the people around me.
That didn’t really work out as planned. The hearing aids didn’t really help, were big, bulky, and itchy – not to mention hard to keep track of (I wonder how many headaches my parents got from wondering where we’d put them this time). Over time, I just stopped wearing them.
My hearing loss has never been huge problem. It’s certainly not a disability; it’s never held me back in school and it never stopped me from making friends. I know a lot of kids with hearing problems have developmental or speech deficiencies; I’m lucky that my disorder was mild enough that I never suffered from those things.
By the time of my diagnosis, I was already a pretty quiet kid. I hung out at the back of the classroom with a book in hand, instead of talking to friends. Not that I lacked for friends – I didn’t. I had great friends, who were as passionate about books and invented games and fantastical worlds as I was. It’s not that I wasn’t outgoing, either – I was. But not always being able to comprehend the people around you is a barrier to interaction, especially when you’re young. So, oftentimes, I preferred the company of a book to the playground adventures on the monkey bars. Games of Telephone, fondly recalled by so many kids my age, were traumatizing to me. No matter how loudly they whispered in my ear, I could never catch the word, and I invariably whispered “what?” over and over again rather than pass on misinformation to the person on the other side. (Little did I know that was the whole point of the game. I couldn’t hear when they explained the rules.) Movies, similarly, threw me off, and often I never really got the plot of whatever Disney flick we were watching in the basement.
The other night I was trying to explain to a friend why I like text messaging so much, and I told him that I think of things more easily in text than I do out loud. That’s not necessarily true – my family members will certainly tell you that I’m a passionate debater and I love sharing ideas aloud (and they’ll probably tell you that I love the sound of my own voice). But it is true that for me, it’s a lot easier to comprehend a friend when I can read their words rather than hearing them, and I don’t have to worry about mishearing or misinterpreting words.
What I’m trying to say is that being hard of hearing made me a better reader–and therefore, I think, a better writer. I was more comfortable expressing my thoughts on paper than I was saying them out loud. More than that, I was more comfortable reading someone else’s thoughts, through books or letters, than I was reading their lips, screwing up my face and listening intently, and hoping desperately I wouldn’t have to say “what?” one more time.
That has given me immense respect for the power of the written word.
I think, maybe, that if I weren’t hard of hearing, I wouldn’t have stayed in and read as much. I would have socialized a little more, sacrificed a few more books, made fewer friends between the pages and more outside in the real world. I wouldn’t have been as devoted of a reader; I might not have been inspired to write the same way I am today. I’m not criticizing children who are outgoing and social, nor am I arguing that they’ll by definition be less apt at reading and writing. I’m simply saying that my oft-reclusive habits gave me the opportunity to read, to learn, to immerse myself in these magnificent created worlds. Being hard of hearing has been, in that way, far more of a blessing than a curse, and in some odd, backwards way, I’m grateful for the excuse to stay at home, reading and writing.
Sent this post to my pastor and his wife: both their kids have hearing loss, one deaf. Interesting – yours is the first post I’ve come across that validates my closing thoughts:
Thank you so much for commenting, sharing your thoughts, and sharing the post with your pastor!
I particularly love this line from your post: “But there is a power available to those who are forced to compensate for the inability to see or hear, a power that’s also sacred.” It makes me think of Tiresias, the blind seer, and Beethoven, composing even without hearing the notes.
Thank you for writing this post, Amira. It is touching, insightful, and revelatory.
You’re too kind, Jamey. I really appreciate you saying that – and stopping by to comment. Thanks 🙂
I lost all of my hearing in one ear years ago and it has been a blessing and sometimes on rare occasions a bit of a torment. First, I suffer from not being able to zero in on where sounds are coming from. So when someone calls my name ten feet to the right of me (my bad ear), it sounds like they are 30 feet away to the left. So I find myself doing circles looking for the person. I am sure this must look amusing to others.
In noisy social situations or a noisy restaurant…forget it! I can barely hear anyone.
There is some good though. Before I lost my hearing, I was very dominant in conversations. Now I listen and observe people. I feel this has helped me understand people immensely and it also has makes me a better person to hold a conversation with. A silver lining of sorts.
Have a good weekend!
Thank you for sharing your story! It is definitely interesting how having to step back and observe makes us more understanding and also better listeners. I’m sorry to hear you lost your hearing in one ear but it sounds like it’s been a blessing and a curse. Of course we always find ways to learn and grow from these experiences.
Thank you for stopping by 🙂
I know this is an old post but I just had to comment. I also have had a 20% hearing loss in both ears my whole life. I never made the connection to my love of reading and my life of writing, but reading your post it suddenly all made so much sense to me! and I could so relate to all your social issues (whispering, understanding movies, slumber parties were the worst, you’re in the dark and can’t read anyone’s lips…) I’m in my late 40s now and have just finally taken the plunge and gotten hearing aids so I can hear the instructor in my yoga class when my eyes are closed. But I don’t consider my hearing loss a handicap. It’s just part of who I am and if my love of language comes from there – I’m glad of it!
Cheers to you, Gydle! (Mary!) I’m so glad you were able to relate to what I wrote in this post. I think getting hearing aids is a fantastic idea – I got my own about four years ago, and it really changed my social life, and the way I interact with friends and family. I’m incredibly grateful to be living in a period of time where such a thing is possible. I hope you enjoy your newfound hearing and I really appreciate you reading and commenting!
I have had hearing loss since I was a young child, and got my first pair of hearing aids when I was thirty (and still nursing a wee one.) My hearing has declined over the years with a significant change last year.
I will tell you this, I am the best listener than anyone else I know. Hearing impairment has made the spoken word so worthy of my attention.
I too, love to text, it’s so much easier and far less exhausting. There are reasons for everything and every challenge. Hugs!