What Are You Up Against?
"I can't hear you." This is what I often say when I'm teaching yoga.
Well, if I stand really close to you and look at your lips, I can. Or if I bend down as you are in downdog and look at you upside down, maybe I can.
Gary Lightbody, Lead singer of Snow Patrol fittingly said:
"Jennifer is an awesome creature. I was like four planks of wood nailed together haphazardly before I started with her and she has somehow fashioned rubber from wood. We’ll, I can touch my toes now anyway. As patient and delightful a teacher and person you could hope for. She’s deaf as a post though so be prepared for some confusing discussions whilst in down dog. If she can fix me she can fix anyone."
When I tell people that I have a hearing problem, they laugh. They chuckle as if I am pulling their proverbial chain.
I wish I was joking. I know people say things like that a lot in jest. Man, I’m so deaf. I’m so blind. And then there is the ‘R” word that I won’t even write out of respect. After my nephew was diagnosed with a genetic disorder (Prader Willi Syndrome) with developmental delays and his best friend has Down’s Syndrome, I won’t even play around with that ‘R’ word. Let’s just say that it is a word people throw around frequently to insinuate stupidity on their or someone else’s behalf. Not a fan of that usage.
I wish I was joking. I wish I didn’t have to put on subtitles when I watch tv. I wish I didn’t have to ask you to translate every line of the movie when you sit next to me in the theatre. I wish I didn’t feel relief when it turns out to be a foreign film simply because there will be subtitles and I can relax. I wish I didn’t have to ask you three times what you just said. It makes me feel sad and alone and like I have to explain that, No, I am not an airhead, I just cannot hear you.
I wish that I didn’t always have to be in the front of the yoga room just to half-hear what the teacher is saying. I wish I didn’t have to keep my eyes open when the rest of the room closes theirs. I wish I could hear you whisper. I wish I didn’t feel like such an outsider most of the time.
I will tell you this though: I am a healer.
My hearing loss has given me the ability to feel things deeper, to hear with my hands and my eyes and my heart a little more strongly. To quote ‘Avatar’: I see you.
I was in denial for many years. I would not accept that I had a hearing problem. When I was in my 20's the idea of wearing a hearing aid was equal to me wearing head gear as a teenager: something I wouldn’t be caught dead doing. And yes, I had head gear. I wore it at night. Sometimes. Anyway, I used to say I would rather be deaf than wear a hearing aid. Ego? I’d say so. Now, if I could afford one, I would wear one in a heartbeat. Big or small. I would wear ten of them.
I miss hearing the wind.
I had trouble with my ears as a child. Chronic ear infections, tubes in my ears, inner ear damage. The doctors told my mother that I would most likely have hearing loss. It has progressively gotten worse. I also have tinnitus. Nonstop ringing and humming and hissing. Nonstop. Never goes away. Ever.
I wrote a poem a little while back.
The Secret Lives of Elephants or On Being Deaf:
Maybe elephants can hear mountains.
Maybe each mountain range creates a different sound,
A different tone when the wind blows over it.
A soundscape as vivid as a landscape,
Only visible to an elephant’s ears.
I am like an elephant.
With my tinnitus
I can hear the mountains talking to me.
I can hear the sun and the wind, the sky also
When no one else can.
These phantom sounds have guided me
Through the plains of my life,
From coast to coast.
And I have survived the deafening silences in between
This hissing and humming in my head.
Memories have a voice- high pitched, cricket-like in tenor.
If my eyes are closed I cannot hear the world outside,
Only the world in my head.
I read lips to guide me through the terrain,
And when the lips fail me, I am lost-
Without food or water.
And I die.
I can hear things that you can’t though.
I can feel the warrior in yoga, the curl of the back
The opening of the heart.
Even if I miss the direction.
I can hear the quiet in between the quiet
And the arches of eyebrows, the pursing of lips.
I can hear the music of unspoken gestures
the tick tock of need, the roaring of lust,
and the whining of dissatisfaction.
I can hear the tree frog sound of anger
Even though your mouth moving in circles alludes me.
The mountains enunciate, their serrated ridges open with pleasure
And look me in the eye.
Hearing them is a breeze.
Even if my eyes are closed,
I can hear them with my big deaf elephant ears.
What I have realized lately is that we are all up against something.
This has cultivated such a level of newfound compassion in me I didn’t know I even possessed. Yes, I am hard of hearing. But my nephew never feels full and has a life of challenges ahead of him. My friend Emily has one leg and a baby who us dying of Tay Sachs. Someone else’s mom just died. Someone else can’t find a job or do a forward fold. Someone lost their home or a loved one because of a devastating earthquake and is trying to start their life over. It’s all relative.
I want to hear you. I do. I won’t lie. It’s hard for me.
I feel empowered when I am teaching but when I am in a room where I can’t hear, I feel like an invisible person. A shadow of myself. I want to not feel sorry for myself that I am young and mostly deaf.
But hey, we are all in this journey together. I have realized that this why I am a healer, why I am a teacher.
When I stopped asking why I got clear. When I stopped asking why? Why being the question at the center of the universe. I finally understood that it wasn’t the why I should be waiting for to open it’s jaws and answer. That why would swallow me whole , that I would burst into flames if I looked directly into it. It would eclipse me and never stop telling me all the reasons why.
I had started talking to drown the ringing in my head. I started singing to kill the ocean in my ears. Why was still the land of my birth. The place I hung my hat. Where I called home. I finally got quiet and looked around at everyone else and saw that we are all up against something. We all have some sort of battle.
My fist opened and the why slipped into the sky like it belonged there.
And I watched it hover then float.
And I accepted what I was. A healer.
I started to see that the why didn’t matter.
As a side note: I wanted to share that after one of my students read about my needing of a hearing aid, she felt so moved that she got me a hearing aids. There are no words to express my gratitude. I will continue to pay it forward daily. Thank you. The power of the word is no stranger to me. And also, the power of human kindness.