Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Different Lives

Someone who lost their hearing late in life once remarked of me, "She's luckier than me because she never knew what it was to hear."

Let me tell you what I think of this:

One of my earliest memories is at 2 when my dear grandfather was playing with me but I didn't understand a single word he was saying to me....except I DID get when he slowly articulated, "Tasha, you need to learn to read lips."

From that moment forward, I started studying people's lips consciously, matching my mother's signs to her lips. I never could lipread my grandpa though, the very one who set the wheels in motion for me learning a very valuable skill.

A valuable skill indeed, but one that will always be tested by curious people asking, "Can you lipread?" and then upon saying yes, they throw some random phrase at you like, "The orange cow likes to eat fries." Then when you fail to understand, assume you CAN'T really lipread, forcing you to go into the millionth explanation of how lipreading REALLY works. (A lot of context, knowing the person's way of speaking, and so forth.)

Or how about the sweet sadness in sitting around the Thanksgiving table, as your mother's plate sits full of food, because for her to eat would mean she stops interpreting everything and you stop understanding what people are talking about. So when she does take a break to eat, she apologizes to you, or she finishes her now-cold plate after everyone else has finished.

Growing up knowing that, unless you are with Deaf or fluent signers, you will drown in a sea of words when you are with more than 2 people at once. You will drown, with a smile on your face, laughing when others laugh, despite not knowing the punch line....or even what the joke was.

This "faking" is extended to others too. You understand you are not an inconvenience but you feel this way, when you sign something to your father and he nods with the all-familiar expression on his face: "I love you but I have no clue what you just said so I'm going to nod." To this day, the best conversations my father and I have had have been over texts or emails. Hearts poured out in words, almost-but-not-quite transcending the communication gap that exists in person.

Try this on for size- not knowing if you had a genetic mutation that would slowly render your precious sight to nothing- until the age of 19, when you decided to march down to the hospital and demand genetic testing. Genetic testing that, at first, was deemed "unnecessary." Is it not necessary to know if the sense that holds you solidly to others will one day disappear?

I still remember the nights I would cuddle with my mother in bed and we would take turns writing giant letters forming words on each other's backs and use tactile sign language. Her pretense? It was a game. The reality? She feared me being unprepared for the blindness doctors had warned was imminent.

Still to this day, at times, I get strange looks from people when I hand over my phone for them to read because I cannot speak for myself well enough yet. Most of the time, people realize that I am a capable person who just communicates differently. Other times though, people stick to their assumption that "Deaf people don't know English well" or "If someone doesn't speak, that suggests something about their intelligence."

Despite all that though, I STILL would not presume that my life was harder than this person's or anyone else's, for that matter. True, I do not know the sadness of losing something "you never had to begin with," but I also do not know the sadness of growing up in a family where nobody knows any sign. Or the sadness of having cancer, or any of many other conditions humans face.

There are many things I do not know, just this one: We can never compare our lives to any other person's.

All we can do is remember what Plato said, "Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle."


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