Hearing the Birds Chirp and the Wind Whistle

Strangers approach Charlen Evans, on street corners and city buses, when they notice her cochlear implant. They greet her by placing a finger just below their ear, gliding it in an arc across the cheek and stopping just shy of the mouth. It is one of the few gestures of American Sign Language that Ms. Evans understands. They are asking if she is deaf. Ms. Evans, 61, is not always sure how to reply.

Her hearing has been impaired her entire life. In school, she weathered a litany of taunts about it, and as an adaptive measure, she learned to read lips with such mastery that she likens her talent to a sixth sense. Yet Ms. Evans said she did not feel all that different from her peers, and certainly did not feel disabled. The problem was never met with any urgency at home. “My mom always said I hear what I want to hear and didn’t believe that I had a hearing problem,” Ms. Evans said. “She was a good mother, but she didn’t like to think anything was wrong.”

Shortly after graduating from high school in Brooklyn, Ms. Evans started a family, marrying a man in the armed forces. She and her husband lived on Air Force bases in Tucson and Plattsburgh, N.Y., where she worked as a teacher’s aide, a job that finally forced her to confront the reality of her poor hearing. She struggled to hear the students in her class. […]

During a hospital visit toward the end of her mother’s life, Ms. Evans had her hearing tested. “I finally decided to do it because I wanted to hear my grandchildren say ‘I love you,’” she said.  Doctors discovered that she had bilateral hearing loss, which was severe to profound in her right ear and moderate to severe in the left. She qualified for a cochlear implant and had the surgery in 2012.

After the operation, Ms. Evans was stunned by the difference in her perceptions. She experienced the everyday chatter of the world, once beyond her ken: the swishing of her pants, the drumming of footsteps on sidewalks, the chirping of birds and the whistling of the wind. “I never even knew that made a sound,” Ms. Evans said of the wind. […]

Early last month, Ms. Evans returned to Kingsborough Community College, where she is taking classes in creative writing and sign language. She wants to one day work in a classroom again, this time in service to deaf students.

“I just want to do something worthwhile with my life.”

~ John Otis, excerpts from: “For the First Time, Hearing the Birds Chirp and the Wind Whistle. The Neediest Cases Fund.” (The New York Times, October 21, 2017)

Comments

  1. I have a feeling she’s already done plenty worthwhile in that life.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I would have loved to watch her as she experienced each new sound…the joy on her face must have been so bright…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Charlen Evans, a women of strength and grace. Dave, to answer your question. NO, I can’t, imagine a trial of 60 years!!… Thankful, she had enough hearing when she was young to be able to learn to speak…I wonder if she was born with the deficient or if she had untreated ear infections or antibiotic resistant infections? People’s journey so unique… /// I realized when I was raising my child esp the first six years at just how much interaction and joy I missed out on because I had no ability to communicate during that age span in my life…so thankful for my operation and the nine years of Speech Therapy…and I think of how much I used my hearing, sight, mind and gut feelings to navigate up to that point…like Charlen Evans I endured the cruel taunts of other children, ( I always knew I wasn’t the same as the other kids)…unlike Charlen my siblings helped out speaking for me, often to my frustration,I can just see my four year old self, prone position on the entry room floor with it’s classic black and while floor as the sun shone through the stain glass side lights and stained glass fan window over the entry door, warming the floor. ..I was in a fury, kicking, flaying my arms back and forth bringing forth a primal, guttural sound…that was my way of communicating…or I would clap, bite, tug, pull or point in desperation, sometimes climb on the counter to reach a cup, or running the water in the half bath and putting my mouth to the stream of water…often these ways of trying to get someone to help me a fruitless effort…I remember my family searching the house for me and I couldn’t answer and didn’t care to be found, as I was sitting on an box in the large pantry with the door shut cookies in my mouth, dry crumbs evident pasted on my lips and cookies in each hand,armed and ready to insert…when my sisters we mad at me when I was older they would say that they wish I never learned to talk and that I was not their true blood sister (our oldest brother was a half brother though we never felt that he was cause he was our brother) and that my mother should give me back to (won’t say the pc incorrect name of race)…like Charlene, a person is shaped by their experiences and learns from their journey and I applaud her for her willingness to teach the children…and I am so grateful that she now hears and that you shared her story…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a lovely story. And I’m with Sandy…got a feeling this woman has already touched many along the way….

    Liked by 1 person

  5. an amazing tale of perseverance and gratitude –

    Liked by 1 person

  6. One of my life’s heroes is a young lady named Anna. She was born profoundly deaf, but wore bilateral hearing aides all of her childhood. I was her speech/language therapist for five years, helping her to manage public school. Truth to tell? She didn’t need me. She got her cochlear implant at the age of 19, while in college. She’s now married, has a Master’d Degree from Harvard and is the funniest, feistiest, most powerful young woman you’d ever want to meet.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a wonderful and very inspiring story!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Amen!
    -Alan

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Sometimes I wonder what takes people so long to make changes, but she did it in the end and what a gift for her life and for the many she will help in the future 👍😀

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have a good friend who had implants in the past year. She has been going deaf for many years, and is a college professor, very much still into her work, though she could retire. She says it is just amazing, the difference. And something about magnets and doing spoon tricks, too 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  11. If half of us could work as hard as this dear woman, then the world would be a kinder more loving place to life. She took lemons and made lemonade. Her mom’s fear of the unknown gave her the tools to use the lip reading strategy. The implant allowed her to experience sound as a cacophony of busy work for the ears to do. Yeah Charlen!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. David, your blog should one day be published as a book. You have so many wonderful posts, pictures and articles here.

    Thank you for brightening our day.

    Liked by 1 person

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