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)

Unglove Yourself. Can you feel this?

Anne Bancroft at a school for the deaf and blind in Spring Valley, NY, preparing for her role in The Miracle Worker photographed by Nina Leen (1959)


Notes:

  • Photo Source: Annebancrofts
  • Post Title Inspired by: It’s like wearing gloves every time we touch something, and then, forgetting we chose to put them on, we complain that nothing feels quite real. Our challenge each day is not to get dressed to face the world but to unglove ourselves so that the doorknob feels cold and the car handle feels wet and the kiss goodbye feels like the lips of another being, soft and unrepeatable. ― Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have

the great bull with its fierce eye, its head raised, its four hooves planted on the summit, at the edge of the abyss

beethoven-1987-andy-warhol

In painting his portrait, I paint that of his stock — our century, our dream, ourselves and our companion with the bleeding feet: Joy. Not the gross joy of the soul that gorges itself in its stable, but the joy of ordeal, of pain, of battle, of suffering overcome, of victory over one’s self, the joy of destiny subdued, espoused, fecundated… And the great bull with its fierce eye, its head raised, its four hooves planted on the summit, at the edge of the abyss, whose roar is heard above the time. […]

If he cannot do this in the world of facts, he wills it in the world of art; everything becomes for him a field on which to deploy the battalions of his thoughts, his desires, his regrets, his furies, his melancholies. […]

The hammer is not all: the anvil also is necessary. Had destiny descended only upon some weakling, or on an imitation great man, and bent his back under this burden, there would have been no tragedy in it, only an everyday affair. But here destiny meets one of its own stature, who “seizes it by the throat,” who is at savage grips with it all the night till the dawn — the last dawn of all — and who, dead at last, lies with his two shoulders touching the earth, but in his death is carried victorious on his shield; one who out of his wretchedness has created a richness, out of his infirmity the magic wand that opens the rock.

~ Romain Rolland, on Beethoven’s struggle with his loss of hearing at 28 in Beethoven the Creator

 


Notes:

Walking Cross-Town. Children of a Lesser God.

walking

It’s late afternoon Thursday. We’re walking up 47th street dodging the lingering jewelers, puffing on their Marlboros, blowing smoke rings, their arms out with pamphlets: “We buy Gold Sir, top price.” If I had gold, I wouldn’t be traipsing up 47th street rushing to catch a commuter train. Step back.

My colleague is in front. I’m trailing. He’s a New Yorker to the core, from birth, wily and confident. And you, you Friend, are country, and you can’t take Country out of the Boy.

I catch him and finish sharing a moment:

“I just can’t let it go. I’ve been carrying this with me for two days.”

He pauses: “Are you nuts?  Don’t give it another thought. This is New York. Anything could have happened.”

He veers right.

“You’re right. See you tomorrow.”  I push on to Grand Central.

Anything could have happened.

It was Tuesday morning, early.

I exit Grand Central. It was brisk, and dark. I wait for the light to turn, and I cross Madison. There’s plenty of time before my morning meeting, no need to push it. Music is streaming in.  I’m lip synching James Taylor’s Country Road : “But I could feel it Lord, on a Country Road, Walk on Down…But you know I could feel it child, yeah – Walking on a country road, I guess I know where my feet want me to go.” 

I hit repeat, and James sweeps me away again. Lightly Child, Lightly. And on this morning, I’m right there in that sweet groove with Ahab, “he never thinks, he just feels, feels, feels.” And on this morning, here I am, a tall sunflower leaning into the Sun. Sweet Jesus, why can’t I find this place more often.

I pass into a dim section of the street.

He appears directly in front of me from Nowhere.

Unshaven. 5’9″. Tattered corduroys, dark windbreaker.  And in my space. I step back, and lift my hand up signaling back, my torso trembling. I re-grip my case. I pull the ear buds out. And Brace.

He points to his ears and emits a muffled: “I’m deaf. I need help.” [Read more…]

“Which do you pick?”

green-paint-brush-color

And so I ask Helen my favorite question: “If you could have one sense back, which would it be?” Her fingers go round and round in circles, and I can feel the girl actually thinking in my palm.

“Which do you pick?” she asks.

Though I have been deprived of all senses save touch since the age of two, while she is only deaf and blind, for me the choice is simple. “Sight,” I tell her, all the glorious colors God has painted on lands and faces. Green is the color I remember with the most pleasure: green from the grass outside our house in New Hampshire. Blue still spills from that square of sky visible over the bed where I lay ill for almost a year, and Mama says my eyes were bright blue before they shrunk behind my lids. Red I have a strong and disagreeable sense of, from when they bled me with leeches. And black, black I know the longest and best because it is my constant companion. These are the only colors I can recall or imagine with any clarity.

~ Kimberly Elkins, What Is Visible, A Novel


This is an excerpt is from a novel about Laura Bridgman (1829-1889). Laura Bridgman’s family was struck with scarlet fever when Laura was two years old. The illness killed her two older sisters and left her deaf, blind, and without a sense of smell or taste. She is known as the first deaf-blind American to gain a significant education in the English language, fifty years before the more famous Helen Keller.


Photography: Media.photobucket via Your Eyes Blaze Out

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