Hey guys! I’m back with draft three (or is it four) of chapter 6 which at this point I’ll just refer to simply as “the music chapter” considering how many revisions I have done of it and how many times I’ve already changed the title lol.
Every time I revise it it gets drastically different. The last time I posted about my revisions I worked on creating stronger scenes and making it more of a love story between my ex-boyfriend, Larry and I discovered music with him for the first time post-cochlear implant activation. However, much of the feedback I received from my peers was that I didn’t make it very clear what it was like to hear music before I had cochlear implants and to discuss how it differed. I tried to make that more clear this time around with my references to Good Charlotte and how I knew my hearing was declining and what it was like to regain it and to have it better than ever before.
It’s still a tough challenge for me to write about what it’s like to not hear and what it’s like to hear some things but not everything and to know you can hear things but maybe not quite the way you’re supposed to be hearing it. I think what makes it difficult is it’s such a strong part of me that I don’t always think about it. It’s my identity. So when I do stop and think about it, let alone write about it, I don’t always know how to put it into words. It’s hard to explain to someone who’s always heard what it’s like to not hear when much of your life was spent not being able to hear, if that makes any sense at all?
I realized as I wrote this revision that the love story exists far beyond what I had with my ex, Larry. The real love story I would suggest wasn’t with him at all; but rather with music. I fell in love with music at a really early age, and that love was only strengthened in my middle school years when I discovered Good Charlotte. Like all good love stories, this one wasn’t without heartbreak, which I experienced as I began to lose my ability to hear music. However, love always triumphs, hence my ability to regain my hearing and ability to listen to music.
I’m not sure if any of those 400 or so words I wrote above make any sense at all but regardless, the latest revision is below. This is likely what I’ll be submitting as my final for Seminar I, because after four of five revisions I’m getting a little tired of revising this and also running out of time. :). This is still a work in progress though and I expect there will still be many more revisions to come as I go through Seminar II next semester, so feel free to leave a comment with any suggestions, questions, or any other feedback!
Chapter 6: The Memory and Memorization of Music
My middle school years were some of the toughest years in my life. I didn’t have many friends, but what I did have was music. Music was my friend. Good Charlotte was there for me when no one else was. Songs like “The Anthem” told me it was okay to be an outcast, to not be with the “in” crowd and that I should be proud to be different and not like my peers. Not to sound meta or anything, but “The Anthem” literally did become my anthem throughout middle school. I’d come home from school and play Good Charlotte on my stereo in my room for hours.
I also saw them live every chance that I got. My first time seeing them live was on June 20, 2010. It was Father’s Day, and I felt kind of bad leaving my dad home alone for the holiday while Mom and I made the journey to Philadelphia to surround ourselves with a bunch of hot, sweaty, and drunk 20-somethings who were all pushing and shoving each other to the rhythm of early 00’s alternative rock bands, but I knew my dad would understand. My world always stopped for Good Charlotte.
Mom was disappointed that we wouldn’t be home with dad for Father’s Day, but she understood. In fact, when the car broke down just a few days prior to the show and we didn’t have the money to get it fixed right away, she did what any crazy mom would do and rather than chalking it up as a lost and selling the tickets, she looked up bus schedules and mapped out our plan. It would be a long bus ride with a 10-15 minute walk each way. No big deal, except for one small problem:
It was over 100 degrees.
Father’s Day. No car. An outdoor concert. In 100-degree heat. But for Good Charlotte, it was worth it. For the band who has given me so much in my life, any amount of suffering faced in order to see them perform live was worth it.
The show started with a familiar set of what I assumed were guitar riffs I have memorized and fallen in love with over the years, followed by the opening lines of “It’s a new day, but it all feels old…”
“The Anthem”. I know this, I thought. Singing, or rather screaming, along while jumping up and down and pushing my way closer and closer to the stage was no problem. I knew this song from the back of my hand. I could remember the song length, the lyrics, and the basic structure of the song.
“Move back.” Mom warned, “I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“I’m fine. I can always move away if people start a mosh pit,” I said.
“It’s LOUD. I don’t want you to hurt your ears,” mom said.
I rolled my eyes. I was already about as deaf as one could be and she was worried about me hurting my ears. Really?
“I’m fine,” I contested.
“Do you want to take one of your hearing aids off?” Mom asked.
“No really, I’m fine and if I do that I won’t hear anything. It’s really not that loud to me,” I said. It wasn’t a total lie. I could hear the music and the volume felt comfortable. I could feel the vibrations from the speakers, but it still didn’t seem dangerously loud, just average.
At this point, my hearing while bad, wasn’t yet completely disabling. I was able to comfortably identify and follow along with a majority of Good Charlotte’s songs. The only time I struggled with a little bit was towards the end when Good Charlotte announced that they would be debuting their new song, “Like It’s Her Birthday”. Since this was a brand new song, I haven’t had the opportunity to hear it in the past, let alone memorize the lyrics and song structure. I could see Benji and Paul strumming along with their guitars while Dean banged along on his drums. I could watch Benji play his bass, although I had no way of deciphering its sounds from Benji and Paul’s electric guitars. I could hear Joel singing, but I was only able to make out the first few words of the main chorus, “Acting crazy, like it’s her birthday….” Still, being able to get the gist of the song was better than nothing at this point. However, by the time I attended my third Good Charlotte concert nearly a year later, I’d see this ability rapidly diminish.
In November of 2010 after much anticipation, Good Charlotte finally released their fifth studio album, Cardiology. Every song on this album was beautifully crafted and one of my all time favorite albums from them. I purchased the album from Best Buy the day it was released and spent the next several weeks listening to it on repeat, studying every single music note (or what I believed them to be) and memorizing all of the lyrics. When they announced that they would be going on tour in March I couldn’t buy the tickets fast enough.
On March 9, 2011, I attended what was the most depressing concert of my life: Good Charlotte’s Cardiology Tour at the Theater of Living Arts (TLA) in Philadelphia. This concert was depressing not because of the show itself (it looked like a great show!) but because of one major problem: I could barely hear or understand anything that was being said and any song that was being performed.
I did okay with some of the newer songs. The good part about their new album that they were promoting, Cardiology is that the songs were so unique and distinct from any of their other songs that it was easy to study the structure of the songs and to distinguish one from another. “Silver Screen Romance” was milder and laid back than many of their other works and had an almost old-fashioned kind of sound that none of their other songs did. I could pick that song out easily. “Introduction to Cardiology” was another easy song to pick out simply because it was first. It only made sense that they would perform it first. Also, the song was one of the only instrumental songs that Good Charlotte had. However, it was hard to tell when the song ended and moved into another song, “The Anthem”. I could not hear the words that Benji and Joel were singing. I only knew the song was different a few minutes in when I noticed that the tone seemed to have changed not just with the song, but the concert atmosphere in general. Everyone was rather calm when Introduction to Cardiology was playing. No one was really jumping up or down or singing along to anything. Now suddenly, the girls were going crazy jumping up and down while the men were forming their own mosh pits. Everyone was singing along to something, but what exactly were they singing along to? I couldn’t tell, and I was afraid to ask. I should know this, I thought to myself. Better luck with the next songs I thought as I hoped for the best.
Song after song after song kept playing, and I wasn’t getting any better. In fact, if anything I was getting worse. What were they performing? Was this “Bloody Valentine”? No, I think they did that already. “Lifestyles of the Rich an Famous”? No, it couldn’t be; that’s their biggest hit and the one they always save for the encore. Would I get any of these songs right? Am I really this deaf?
The music stopped and Benji and Joel talked to the audience. They were laughing. Why were they laughing? What was even going on? I looked at my mom and she was laughing and smiling, too. “I love watching them talk. They always make fun of each other,” she said. Not only was this my third Good Charlotte concert, it was her third one, too. She had become my concert buddy and was beginning to enjoy the Good Charlotte concerts every bit as much as I did, if not more so. Or at least as much as I did before this night… I wanted to cry. I had no idea what was being said, what was being performed, and I didn’t even know why I was there. Would I ever be able to enjoy a Good Charlotte concert ever again? I didn’t want to let her know how bad of a time I was having or how I couldn’t actually hear anything. I felt ashamed and embarrassed, but above all else, I felt defeated. Instead I just said, “Yeah, me too. I love them, they’re hilarious.” I figured pretending I could hear them and giving a vague response was my best bet.
March 9, 2011 was the first night I realized that maybe I was deafer than I ever imagined. It was the first time that I was ever a little bit afraid of my deafness. Up until that night, I thought I was doing an excellent job of existing in the hearing world and “getting by” despite my deafness. But music has always been such a huge part of my life. If I was going to lose my ability to hear music, what did I even have left in my life?
I couldn’t accept the fact that music may only be a past memory for me. Even though I was struggling to hear it, I never gave up. I saw many concerts in 2010 – 2014 including Simple Plan, Yellowcard, The Ataris, Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry, Maroon 5, Pat Benatar, and Rick Springfield. Many of these musicians sounded very different from one another, but each concert had one thing in common:
I couldn’t hear them.
I tried to focus more on the experience I was having at each concert rather than on the fact that I couldn’t hear the music at all. Sometimes the experience was great, and other times not so great. Simple Plan’s concert was one of the worst concerts I ever been to in my life, despite them being one of my all-time favorite bands. I couldn’t hear any of the songs and throughout the night.
Avril Lavigne was a concert even more depressing than the March 9, 2011 Good Charlotte concert I attended. At least with Good Charlotte I could remember what it was like to attend their concerts and to be able to hear them. I waited over 10 years to see her perform live and she has always been one of my all time favorite musicians. However, I couldn’t hear a word she said. I couldn’t understand what any of the songs she sang were. I didn’t know if she was good live, not good, or even in between.
I was bored. Concerts become less fun when you have no idea what is going on. Not only was I bored, I was downright depressed. One of the most anticipated concerts in my entire life and I couldn’t even hear anything.
Unfortunately, it only got worse from then on out. Not only was I losing my ability to hear live music and to enjoy going to concerts, something that has become a favorite pastime of mine, but I was losing the ability to hear music on the radio, too. Catching a song mid-way through on the radio and I’d have absolutely no idea who sung it or what the song was called, even if it was a song I’ve heard millions of times before. The only way I knew what it was is if I knew the name and artist ahead of time, but even that was becoming more and more difficult. I couldn’t hear or understand what the radio DJ’s were saying; the only way for me to know would be to have someone tell me such as my mom or dad if they were in the car with me at the time, or to look it up on their website to see what was “Now Playing” and hope it was updated (it usually wasn’t).
Listening to my own personal music collection via CDs or my iPod was a bit easier for me, because then I could select the songs on my own I wanted to listen to. I knew exactly what the song was called and who it was by. I could use my memory of how I thought the song was supposed to sound, the lyrics and the basic song structure to figure out what the song was and to almost enjoy it. It was at times an exhausting process. Music was becoming less of an enjoyable activity to me and more of a chore. Because it took so much work for me to “study” the music and to be able to listen to it based off my memory, I found myself listening to it less and less. I used to love finding new music and discovering local, unsigned bands, but that hobby became a thing of the past as my hearing continued to decline. Hearing music was only working for songs I had a past memory of hearing, not something I’d need to discover for the very first time.
My ability to hold on to my memories of music and the way I thought it was supposed to sound would come in handy a few years later after I received my first cochlear implant.
“Don’t be too discouraged if music doesn’t sound like how you remember it at first. Remember, for some people they are never able to hear music at all even with the cochlear implant,” I remembered Wayne’s words, but I chose not to accept them. Music has always been such a huge part of who I am, and I refused to accept the idea that I may not ever be able to enjoy it again. I wanted to not only hear it the way I remembered it, but I wanted to hear it the way it was supposed to sound, too. I didn’t want music to consist only of memories; I wanted music to be exactly what it was – music.
“Can you tell what this?” Dad asked as he turned on the car radio.
“Jesse’s Girl?” I asked. We had the song burned on one of our car CDs and my dad knew it was my favorite, so we played it often.
My mom shot my dad a concerned look before whispering something. I’ll never know what was said, but if I had to take a guess it was probably something along the lines of “Why can’t she hear it?”
“No – it’s the Grinch,” my dad corrected.
“What?” I asked.
“The Grinch,” my dad repeated.
“I can’t really hear you. I mean I can, but I can’t understand what you’re saying – everything still sounds like a baby crying,” I said.
“The GRINCH. GUR-INCHHH,” my mom said. In between the sounds of a baby crying, her voice squeaked through. She still sounded like she was sucking on helium, but I could read her lips well enough to tell she was saying “the Grinch”.
“Oh, the Grinch!” I said, “yeah, I didn’t get that at all.”
“It will probably take time. You’ll get it eventually,” my dad said.
“Yeah. Wayne and everyone in the Facebook groups said that music is the hardest thing to learn,” I said. I left out the second half of the sentence, some of them never learn to hear music at all or at least not the way it was before being implanted.
“You can try some more when we get home. Remember, we have the new Mandisa CDs I got from G triple C,” my mom reminded me.
“Yeah, I’ll try those,” I said.
Once I got home I was so excited to make noise and to hear literally anything I could. Gizmo, my Maine Coon cat meowing. The sound of running water. The clicking noise that light switches apparently make. Even the sounds of ice cubes cackling in a cup of soda amused me. But the thing I wanted to hear most of all was music, so I wasted little time popping a CD in the stereo and pressing play.
I started with Mandisa as my mom suggested. It was a brand-new CD that I’ve had for a month but have yet to open since I couldn’t hear anything before my activation. I have been eager to open it as a sort of “gift” for my new bionic ear. I wasn’t that familiar with Mandisa’s music other than the occasional song here or there that played on K-Love, so I was excited to discover her music for the first time with my new bionic ear.
However, when I pressed play all that I could hear was the sound of a baby crying blocking the sounds of Mandisa’s voice. Since I had little to no previous experience with listening to Mandisa, my brain was unable to process the sounds of her voice and the instruments in the background. Everything was completely new and overwhelming. Still, I didn’t want to give up just yet. I hit “next” and choose another song. Same results. I kept on trying and trying and trying until more than an hour passed by and I had still made no progress.
“It still sounds so weird. All I can hear is the sound of a baby crying,” I said.
“Why don’t you try something else that you’re more familiar with?” my dad suggested.
I look around a bit before spotting the Kelly Clarkson “Thankful” CD sitting by the stereo. Kelly Clarkson was never someone I’d say was my favorite musician, but I did always like and appreciate her music. I looked at the back of the CD case to refresh my memory on what songs were on that album.
“’Miss Independent’. ‘Low’. ‘A Moment Like This’. Hmm. Okay I think I know these pretty well,” I said to myself before swapping CDs and pressing play.
I couldn’t understand it all at first, but by my third time through I could pick out words like “Miss independent” or “What is this feeling taking over” from her songs. The music was slowly beginning to filter through the noise and sound like actual music. It wasn’t yet pretty, but it was a glimpse of what music is supposed to sound like – actual music.
The more I listen to it, the more familiar it becomes. It’s like a new way of studying and learning to hear music. I thought to myself. But this is going to take a lot of work.
I was exhausted. The one thing nobody tells you about hearing or being activated with a cochlear implant is how truly exhausting it can all be. Once activated, you need to really think hard about what you’re hearing and give your brain a lot of time to process the sounds and figure out what it is. After listening to music for several hours, I needed a break.
I guess that’s a little bit of progress. I thought. I’ll try again tomorrow.
For the rest of the week I focused almost all my attention on learning how to hear music the way it was supposed to sound. I learned quickly that the more familiar a band or song was, the better the chances I had of hearing it properly. Good Charlotte was my band of choice, for obvious reasons. There was no band I knew better than Good Charlotte. Still, for the first few days post-activation I struggled. However, I was determined to not become another statistic; I didn’t want to turn into a cochlear implant recipient that lost their ability to enjoy music post-activation. I was determined to defy the odds and to not only hear music, but for it to be completely and mesmerizingly beautiful; like I’ve never heard it before.
By the third day post-activation, after spending countless hours listening to Good Charlotte on repeat, it finally began to click. I was working from home for an advertising agency, WebiMax, and listening to my iPod as I worked on my assigned tasks. I had Good Charlotte’s complete discography playing on repeat. The song that was playing at that moment was Good Charlotte’s “Predictable”. Suddenly, I recognized an entirely new sound. It wasn’t the sound of a baby crying or someone sucking on helium or any other “side effect” kind of sound. It was beautiful.
Duhn duhn. Duhn duhn. Duhn duhn.
What was that?
I backed up and hit play again.
Duhn duhn. Duhn duhn. Duhn duhn.
Is that a drum? No, it couldn’t be. It wasn’t quite loud or hard enough to be a drum.
Guitar? No, I was fairly sure I was already hearing the guitar, and this was something different.
What other options were left?
I decided to take to Google and look up facts about Good Charlotte’s “Predictable” to see if I could find anything that stated what instruments were used.
BAM! Found it.
It was a bass.
The one instrument I have always known of and knew Good Charlotte could play, but could never actually hear. Up until that moment I thought that the bass and the regular guitars were synonymous. For the first time ever, I was hearing the bass the way it was supposed to sound and it was so beautiful. I’ve always enjoyed listening to “Predictable”, but I’d never quite referred to it as being one of my all-time favorite Good Charlotte songs. That is, not until that moment. At this particular moment, I knew I was making extreme progress. I was so happy and excited I could cry.
I spent the rest of the afternoon playing “Predictable” on repeat. I was in complete awe by the sound of the bass and I was excited to see what else I could hear.
By the end of the day I could sing along to most of the words in “Predictable”.
The best part? I was singing along because I could hear and follow the song, not simply because I had it memorized.
On day four of post-cochlear implant activation, I had plans to see Larry for what would be our first date in over a month and I couldn’t have been more excited.
Larry picked me up at around 6pm in his trusty old, beat up green truck. I was never a big fan of the truck, but for the first time in my life I was thrilled by the sight of that truck because I knew what it meant: I was finally going somewhere. Alone. With Larry. At last.
“I’m here.” read the latest text on my Android phone, but I already knew and had the door wide open before the message even came through. I mapped out his route and knew exactly when to expect him at my condo and watched him pull up. I was excited to see him, but I really couldn’t wait to finally hear him.
He looked so handsome. For once, he actually made an effort and traded in his faded, worn out t-shirts and dirty jeans for a nice collared shirt and a pair of jeans that at least didn’t have any dirt on them (so what if they were a little faded?). The smell of his British Sterling cologne was intoxicating.
“Your voice is beautiful,” I said. I wasn’t sure if I meant it or if I was just saying it because of how in love I was and how happy I was to finally be able to hear him speak and to have a conversation that existed outside of writing down notes or texting each other. It’s been a rough month as far as communication went.
“Thank you,” Larry said, as we both laughed together.
“This is weird. I know. But I can hear now.” I said.
“What do I sound like?” he asked.
“Pretty much the same.” I said, “But your voice is a little deeper.”
“I got a Spotify playlist,” Larry said. “Do you want to hook it up?”
“Sure,” I said. “What do you got on here?”
“Take a look.” he said as he handed me his phone and pulled out of the parking lot.
I scrolled down the list searching frantically for a familiar song. Celtic music. Scottish music. What in the world? Only my boyfriend would have music this weird on Spotify…I thought.
Finally, I found something I recognized: “As Long As You Love Me” by the Backstreet Boys. Music still sounded terrible to me, but better than it did on day one at least. I just wanted to impress Larry with all the things I could suddenly hear, even if I couldn’t understand them.
Larry joined me and we sang together, “Who you are…where you’re from…don’t care what you did…as long as you love me…” and it felt like he was singing directly to me, serenading me with his love. Larry’s always sung to me, but now that I could hear him and almost understand him, his voice sounded ten times sweeter.
When we arrived in Smithville I was immediately overwhelmed by all the noise and it looked like Santa came through town and painted everything with Christmas cheer. It looked like a cute little Christmas village with lights everywhere I looked, a train going by every 10 minutes, and Christmas music constantly playing.
“Look at the lights!” I said.
“It’s a Christmas lights show,” Larry explained after reading the sign. “Want to watch?”
“Sure!” I said.
We watched as the Christmas trees lite up and flashed new colors every few seconds. Some were purple, others were blue or orange.
“Can you hear that?” Larry asked.
“Christmas music?” I guessed. It was an obvious answer; we were in Christmas town, after all.
“Yes.” he said.
“I can’t tell what song it is.” I admitted, “But I know it’s Christmas music.
“It’s Rudolph.” He said as he began to hum the tune.
I nodded along, wondering if there were any songs I’d “get” that night. I haven’t really been able to understand any of the songs on the radio since we’ve arrived, but I was enjoying the sensation of hearing sounds and being able to at least tell there was music playing.
“Do you want to go in the shops?” I asked. The lights were cool, but I was ready to explore everything else.
“Ok. That one looks cool,” he said as he pointed to a native American shop. Larry has always been interested in Indians, just like me.
We entered the shop and looked around before heading to the back of the shop and Larry discovered an old-fashioned rack of CDs with a little machine that allowed you to play samples of the music. He read from the choices and pushed one of the buttons. “Indian music,” he said. “Can you hear it?”
“I can.” I said. There weren’t any words, so it was easier to follow along.
“What do you hear?” he asked.
“Drums?” I guessed.
“Yes. What else?” he asked.
“Uhm. I want to say guitar?” I guessed.
“Mmhmm.” He said.
“I know there’s other stuff, too, but I am not sure what else it is.” I admitted. “I want to hear a flute.” I say.
“I don’t think we’re going to find that in Indian music.” he admitted, almost apologetically.
“It’s okay.” I said as I push another button.
Larry and I pushed every single button until we run out of songs. “The people in here must hate us.” I said, “Oh well I’m having fun.”
“That’s all that matters then.” Larry said. “Love you.”
“Love you too.” I said. “Let’s go somewhere else.”
We made our way from shop to shop. Most of the shops were filled with homemade goods that we had no intention of ever buying, but it was fun to look at them all anyway.
“Check this out.” Larry said as he picked up a bell. “Can you hear it?”
I listened carefully, it’s a sound I’ve always wanted to hear but never could. “I can. Oh my god. I can.” I said. “Let me see it.”
I picked up the bell and held it to my ear, ringing it over and over again. Tears began to fill in my eyes. I can’t believe that I was really able to hear a bell. I may not have been able to hear everything clearly yet, but this was huge. I’ve never been able to hear high frequency sounds before and now I was clearly hearing one of the highest forms of high frequency sounds.
“There’s some more over here.” Larry said.
I walked over to the table where Larry was and carefully pick up each and every bell and rang it to my ear. They all sounded the same, but I had to ring them all just to be sure. I picked them up and placed them down carefully, being cautious not to break any of the glass or porcelain materials. The shop owner glared at me. Surely, she didn’t understand or appreciate this little routine.
“Let’s go somewhere I else,” I whispered to Larry. “I don’t think she likes us doing this.” I said as I glanced up at the shop owner.
“Great idea.” he said.
Our next stop was a little punk rock shop known simply as “Underground”. Underground didn’t look like any of the other shops we’ve been too. The outside of the building was green like all the other shops, but the bright red doors made it stand out. There were no handmade goods or bells or frilly things. Everything almost looked like it was dead and there was hundreds of thousands of old records everywhere you looked and walls adorned with famous concert posters from heavy metal bands.
“I feel like I’m home!” I yelled over the heavy metal music blaring through the speakers.
“What? I CANNOT HEAR YOU!” Larry yelled back. He looked horrified.
“I LOVE THIS PLACE. IT REMINDS ME OF THAT RECORD STORE IN OCEAN CITY!” I said. I was pretty sure this was what heaven looked like, or at the very least, sounded like.
“I can’t do this – I’ll wait for you outside,” Larry said. I was afraid I may have broken my country boyfriend, but I was in no hurry to leave. I was in my element, whether he chose to be a part of that or not. I nodded back and said, “I’ll just be a few minutes.”
I browsed through the stacks of records, but I didn’t recognize any of the names. This really is underground, I thought to myself. I reminiscenced on my middle school days back when I’d spend hours searching for local punk rock bands that no one has ever heard of, dedicating my life to being their little groupie, whether they wanted it or not (most of them didn’t). I focused on the songs blaring from the radio. I could feel all of the vibrations and could understand why Larry had to leave…it was LOUD! I had no idea what they were shouting through those speakers, but I didn’t mind. I was in pure bliss simply by the fact that I knew there was music playing, a feeling I hadn’t experienced in several years. Besides, wasn’t the point of heavy metal music to shout things in a mic and pair it with heavy drumming and guitars so no one knew what you were saying any way?
I spent a few more minutes soaking in the entire experience and all of the sounds before spotting and purchasing an Edgar Allan Poe shirt. It was a nod to my Bachelor’s degree in English, but also a little memento to help me to forever remember this moment.
“We better get going,” I said to Larry when I reunited with him outside of the shop. “It’s getting late and we still need to stop for dinner.”
“Okay, where to?” he asked.
“Up to you,” I said.
“How about Applebees?” he suggested. I never liked Applebees in the past because it was always too loud for me, but with my new bionic ears, I’m more than willing to give them another chance tonight.
“Sounds good.” I said as we walked back to his trusty green truck.
It was a long way from Galloway to Deptford. I was sure there must have been another Applebees in a closer town to us, but Deptford was all that either of us knew, and we didn’t mind spending some extra time together. It was our first night out in over a month, and with Larry on the road all the time as a truck driver, we knew that opportunities like tonight would be rare and far between in the months to come.
“I have something for you to listen to,” Larry said.
“Hm. What’s that?” I asked.
“Listen.” he said as he pushed play on a Spotify playlist on his phone.
I listened closely for a few seconds before realizing there were no words to the song.
“Instrumental?” I asked.
“Yes.” Larry admitted.
“Drums?” I questioned. I was confident that whatever I was hearing must be drums.
“What? No.” he said.
“I could swear I heard drums.” I said. I knew I was learning sounds, especially for instruments, but I didn’t trust Larry’s words at that moment. A drum was a drum was a drum. This was not a high frequency sound. I knew what a drum was. Or did I?
“Nope. It’s 100% bagpipes.” He said.
“Oh wow. That’s different.” I said. I was impressed that he remembered my love for bagpipes. I WAS Scottish and Irish after all. Bagpipes were what we did.
“Yeah, thought you’d appreciate it. I know you said you wanted them at your wedding when we get married.” He said.
“Yes, I do. I always thought they were cool.” I admitted, “they sound beautiful, but I could swear I heard drums. It’s weird.”
When we left Applebees and finally arrived back home, it was after 10. Larry parked the car in the back lot, away from all the houses and other cars so as to not disturb my elderly neighbors who may have been trying to sleep. “Let’s not go inside,” I said.
“Why? Mom asleep?” he asked.
“No…” I admitted. “I just want to talk.”
“About what?” he asked.
“I dunno. Can you sing to me?” I asked.
Larry knew exactly what I was asking for. I was asking for more noise. More sound. More of him and his voice and to experience him in a way that was still foreign to me. I wanted to learn what music REALLY sounded like. I wanted to learn his voice. I wanted this night with just the two of us to last forever.
He put his Spotify playlist on and we listened to each and every song. He moved our seats back so we could cuddle. I rested my head against his chest and felt his heartbeat as he sang along to the radio, holding me as tight as he could. He only stopped singing every few minutes to kiss me above my eyes.
When the last song played, it was Brad Paisely’s “She’s Everything” and I could swear he was singing each and every line from the bottom of his heart directly to me.
“Love you, Angel,” Larry whispered in my ear. A soft, delicate whisper, and perhaps one of the only whispers I’ve ever actually heard in my life.
We fell asleep that night in his trusty, beat up green truck under a full night of stars to the sounds of Braid Paisley. Our own version of a Christmas song.
Image Credits: Pinterest
This post has nothing to do with drugs or anything you’d expect from Camden, so sorry to burst your bubble if that’s what you were looking for.
This post does still have a very special story about Camden though. I present to you, the newly revised (and most difficult chapter to write) of my novel, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”.
Chapter 1: Follow the Yellow Brick Road
Loss. It’s one word with a multitude of feelings attached to it including despair, emptiness, and hopelessness. For some people, loss means nothing. You can’t lose something if you’ve never had it to begin with, right?
That’s how hearing loss worked for me. My mother, on the other hand, can remember the exact moment when she discovered my hearing loss.
I was two years old and my mother would call out my name, but I never responded. The doctors thought it was just a phase or a case of the “terrible twos”.
“No, I know my daughter. She can’t hear me,” Mom would argue.
When my mom banged a handful of pots and pans together behind my back and I didn’t flinch, she knew something was wrong. Defying the doctors, my mom took me to see Miss Terri, an audiologist at Cooper Hospital in Camden, New Jersey.
After performing a series of hearing test, Miss Terri confirmed what we already knew: I had profound hearing loss.
The best way to treat it — or at the time, the only way to treat it — was with hearing aids. I needed them in both ears.
After being diagnosed with profound hearing loss, I made the journey to Camden once every two weeks for speech therapy lessons. My mom and I would drive from our small condo in Washington Township to the big city every other week. On our way in, we’d pass endless food and street vendors selling everything from hot dogs to pretzels and even random t-shirts. It amazed me how at 9 o’clock in the morning people would still be out selling lunch foods. Everyone always had a smile on their face and seemed happy to be working.
“Mom, I want to live here one day. I love the city,” I said on our way in for my appointment.
“That’s because you don’t understand what this city is really like. It’s not safe.,” Mom explained. I’d understand it more when I got older and would see individuals hauled off by police for God knows why on more than one occasion. But as a child, it was a magical place with audiologists and speech therapists that thought the world of me and were helping me to hear and speak well.
Cooper Hospital had many departments and was easy to get lost in. Fortunately, they developed a system to help speech and audiology patients find their way around. By placing strips of yellow tape on the floor, patients could simply “follow the yellow brick road” to their appointment. Every time I had an appointment I knew to look down at the floor for that yellow tape and I’d sing along and skip to the tune of, “Follow, follow, follow follow follow the yellow brick road!”
Since speech and hearing worked so closely together, my appointments were run by both my audiologist, Miss Terri, and my speech therapist, Miss Vicki.
Miss Terri would always start my appointments by testing my hearing. She would lead me into a gray, audiology testing booth that was no more than 50 feet wide while my mom waited and watched outside in the hall. Miss Terri would then crookedly place a special pair of headphones over my ears and hook some wires up to my hearing aids and hand me a button.
“First we’re going to test the beeps. Push the button whenever you hear a beep. We’ll start with your left ear first before moving to the right,” Miss Terri explained.
I’d smile and nod and occasionally give a thumbs up to let her know I understood. I loved pressing that button. It felt like I was playing a video game where hitting the button was the equivalent of shooting the monsters and bad guys and freeing the victims. I never even noticed that the button didn’t get pushed half as often as it should have.
Once that portion of my hearing test was completed, I would be given a series of words that I’d have to say back.
“Say the word hot dog,” Miss Terri said.
“Hot dog,” I answered.
“Say the word baseball.”
“Say the word airplane.”
“Say the word ice cream.”
“Terri, I’m sorry but I have to stop you,” my mom interrupted.
Miss Terri and I both looked up. I was doing so well with the words, what could possibly be wrong?
“She’s not actually hearing you – she’s reading your lips,” my mom said.
“I can fix that,” Terri said as she grabbed the sheet of paper with her word list.
“I’m going to cover my lips now. I want you to focus on what you hear, not on me.” Miss Terri said. I was nervous, but knew I had no choice but to try my best. I nodded in agreement.
“Say the word kite.’
“Say the word chair.”
“Say the word sub.”
“Say the word third.”
“Say the word ran.”
I didn’t know what Miss Terri was saying, I could only guess, but I knew I was wrong. Thanks a lot, Mom. I thought.
When Miss Terri finished with the hearing test, it was on to either Miss Vicki for speech therapy where we would do different activities. One of my favorites involved using what I liked to refer to as the “magic mirror”. It was a long, oval-shaped mirror that rested in a tan wooden frame on wheels.
“Ready to use the magic mirror?” Miss Vicki asked.
“Yes!” I would exclaim.
“Okay. Let’s practice our “Sh” and “Ch” sounds,” they’d say. “We’ll start with ‘sh’ first.”
“Sh!” I said. It was easy for me to think of the sound as a syllable, as if Miss Vicki was the teacher and I the student, getting yelled at for talking.
“Very good!” she said. “Now, I’m going to give you a word. Can you say “choose”?
“Shoes!” I said.
“No, not shoes like on your feet. Choose like when you choose something to eat,” she said.
“Shoes!” I said.
“No, look in the mirror. You want to move your tongue up a little bit and touch your teeth,” she said.
“Tooze,” I said.
“Try again. Remember, you only want to touch your teeth a little bit, not a lot.”
“Choose?” I said.
“Yes, that’s right! Very good! Want to take a break and draw on the magic mirror?” she asked.
I nodded yes and reached for the bucket of magic markers, choosing the pink one first, my favorite color. I drew a big heart on the mirror with several smaller hearts for arms, legs, and even eyes. My little heart person, my favorite thing to draw.
When I finished my masterpiece, Miss Vicki would continue with our lesson.
“Okay, Kimmy. We’re going to play a game now,” Vicki said. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I hated being called “Kimmy”.
“You’re going to take this ball and throw into the trashcan across the room. But as you throw the ball, I’m going to give you a word to say and I want you to imagine your voice going with that ball. As you throw the ball you’ll want your voice to get louder. Got it?” she said.
I nodded. I wasn’t sure if I really understood, but the idea of throwing a playing a game sounded like fun. The game sounded like basketball, a game I’ve always enjoyed watching my dad play.
“Okay. Your first word is suitcase,” she said.
“suit case,” I whispered as I threw the ball.
Vicki threw the ball back to me. “Try again,” She said.“Remember, Mr. Loud Mouth. Your voice travels with the ball.”
I took the ball back from her and paused as I remembered Mr. Loud Mouth. “SUIT CASE,” I said.
“Very nice! You got it!” she said.
Being a toddler with profound hearing loss was easy. Nobody asked any questions about my hearing loss or questioned anything that I did or didn’t do. My parents couldn’t have been more supportive and understanding of my hearing loss. My sister paid no mind to it. And my audiologist and speech therapists couldn’t help me enough. I was a toddler without a care in the world. The only thing that made me different from any other toddler in the world was the fact that I couldn’t hear. As far as I could see, I was one in the same with the rest of the hearing world. Unfortunately, as I’d learn in my grade school years, not everyone saw things that way.
Today I watched Heather Artinian’s Georgetown TEDxGeorgetown Talk, “Not the Hearing or Deaf World”. Heather Artinian was the star of the popular documentary Sound and Fury and its sequel, Sound and Fury: 6 Years Later. As the daughter of two Deaf parents, Heather grew up in Deaf culture and was taught to speak with ASL from an early age. Some of her other family members like her cousin were also deaf, however, they supported and got a cochlear implant (or two, not entirely sure to be honest). While Heather supported Deaf culture and was proud of her cultural heritage, she also had many hearing friends and was eager to be a part of the hearing world. At the mere age of 5, Heather knew that she wanted a cochlear implant.
However, her parents were not fully supportive of her decision. Instead of allowing her to get the cochlear implant, the family moved to Maryland which has many more Deaf individuals than her hometown in New York did. They lived there for about 3 or 4 years until her Mom got very sick and had to go back home to New York. During her time in Maryland Heather grew up in a comfortable Deaf environment where she was taught at a Deaf school and ASL was her primary language.
When Heather returned back to New York ASL was no longer the norm and doing the simplest of things like trying to order food from a restaurant was a difficult and frustrating experience for her and her family. Heather wanted to be able to communicate with her hearing friends and to be a part of their world. This is something I can relate to very much. I feel like in many ways Heather’s story is my story. Anyway, as Heather desired to be a part of their world she once again longed for a cochlear implant and this time her family didn’t fight it on it – they allowed her to get her first cochlear implant when she was 9.
Heather has since went bilateral and she is doing very well. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and currently attending Harvard Law school. In her talk Heather focused on bridging the gap between the deaf and hearing worlds and what I loved is that Heather isn’t concerned in being in either the hearing or the deaf world – she wants to be in the Heather world which is a little bit of each world.
Watching Heather’s Ted Talk honestly made me think about my own life and where I am with always having lived in the hearing world and now wanting to learn ASL. People think it’s weird that I never learned ASL and I never belonged to Deaf culture but I didn’t really know about it since everyone I know is from the hearing world so it makes sense that I would want to be a part of that world. Sometimes I feel almost guilty for not belonging to Deaf culture. I’ve had people in a round about way also say that I’ve turned my back on my own culture or I don’t even know who I am or am supposed to be since I’m so out of tune with Deaf culture. Then there’s another part of me that wonders if I’m doing a disservice by wanting to learn ASL. Is this offensive to the Deaf community? I went my entire life trying to fit in to the hearing world and going bilateral and I think being able to hear now is the greatest thing ever and sometimes it’s mind-boggling to comprehend that some people wouldn’t want to hear even if they have the ability to with cochlear implants…and yet here I am after going bilateral wanting to learn ASL and join in the Deaf world. Is this okay or is this cultural appropriation? Have I’ve been missing out on a big portion of my life by not belonging to this culture that I maybe should have been born into? Has my entire life been a mistake for choosing not to belong to this culture? There’s so many questions I don’t have the answers to and may never have the answers to.
Why do I want to learn ASL and why now? Maybe it is because I wonder if maybe I’m missing out on something. Maybe I do want to join in with Deaf culture or maybe I just don’t know yet but I at least want to see what is there. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to go against or abandon the hearing world I worked so hard to get into. It means that whereas Heather wants to live in the Heather world I want to live in the Kimberly world. I want the best of both worlds. I don’t want it to be hearing world and deaf world – I want it to just be 1 world where everyone can co-exist.
I loved Heather’s Ted Talk. I think she is a very smart girl (she’s studying Law at Harvard after all…) and what she says really makes sense. She doesn’t just reject the hearing world the way some Deaf individuals do (I’m looking at you…Mark Drolsbaugh…) she embraces it. Heather wants to make the best future for herself and she knows that in order to do that she needs to learn to adapt to the world around her and the world around her is primarily hearing. However, Heather didn’t forget where she came from. She was never about abandoning Deaf culture. I do get the impression she prefers the hearing world hence why she chose to live with her grandparents, attend a hearing school, and notably didn’t sign during her presentation, but it will always be a part of her and something she is proud of. Heather successfully balances both world to create one universal world that makes her who she is – Heather Artinian. I think we can learn a lot from her and I look forward to hearing more from her in the future.
I was so inspired by Heather that I sent her the following message on LinkedIn:
My name is Kimberly Erskine and I am an adjunct professor and graduate student at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. I was born profoundly deaf but always lived in the hearing world and got by with lipreading until receiving cochlear implants in 2015 and 2016.
For my MA project I am writing a memoir about my cochlear implant experience. I have been doing extensive research on Deaf culture and ASL as well. Some of my research involved watching both of your documentaries. I also just finished watching your Georgetown TedX talk tonight. I just wanted to say you are a huge inspiration for me and I believe many other deaf/Deaf individuals as well. I admire the way you chose for yourself which world to belong to – the Heather world – and how you’re working to build bridges in both the hearing and deaf communities.
I don’t think I ever had a choice but to belong to the hearing world. I was offered to learn ASL at a young age but declined because I didn’t know anyone who was Deaf and learning to adapt to the hearing world made more sense to me. I never knew that Deaf culture was its own thing. Once I got older and began to learn more about it it completely fascinated me though. I am trying to learn more about it and hoping to learn sign language (I am applying to take an ASL class as independent study this Fall) so that I can meet more Deaf people and communicate with them.
I can understand how challenging being in both worlds might be for you at times. Sometimes people look at me weird for never having learned ASL or belonging to Deaf culture. They think that means I don’t know who I really am or they don’t understand my sudden interest in Deaf culture now especially since I can hear with my cochlear implants. Maybe in some ways I’m also still trying to figure it all out. I really loved your Ted Talk though because it was so relateable to me. I saw a lot of myself in you and your presentation.
I honestly really hope Heather responds because I think she is really cool and would like to make friends with her haha. We shall see…
Hey guys! Wow, long time no updates! I apologize for being so quiet lately I have just been so intensely busy! Juggling work full time at Penn Medicine with teaching part time at Rowan University and taking two classes a semester towards earning my MA in Writing for the past year has been no joke! I’ve really been enjoying everything I do though. None of this stuff would have been possible if it weren’t for getting my cochlear implants (or at least not teaching) and it has all been so incredibly rewarding.
School has especially been an interesting experience for me. I am never shy from discussing my cochlear implants with anyone that will (or won’t…as is the case with at least some of my sleepy, bored students…hey I do teach at 8am afterall…) listen from students to classmates, professors, and really anyone in between. One of my students even mentioned that she wants to be an art teacher for the Deaf and learn ASL and hear more about my story.
On the student side of things, well I’m continuing to work towards completing God Granted Me Hearing which will serve as my MA in Writing Master’s project. I have been doing significant research for this project especially on Deaf culture and ASL. There’s definitely a lot to learn and I’m really loving this journey I’ve been on.
But enough about school, the real thing I want to talk about with this post is my hearing appointment I had at Jefferson yesterday morning. This appointment was one of the rare times in my life when I scheduled an appointment kind of “just because”. I mean I guess there was kind of a point to it – I haven’t had a hearing appointment in over a year and haven’t really followed up with anyone as much with my right ear post-activation as I did with my left. I guess it’s because I kind of knew what to do and expect and things have been going well for me. Also, I’m just so busy it’s hard to get around to scheduling appointments like that these days, but with my summer hours allowing me to have off on Fridays I thought it would be a good time to schedule a checkup just to make sure everything is working as it’s supposed to.
I’ll be honest – I was pretty nervous about this appointment. For once though I wasn’t nervous because of my hearing abilities or how I’d test, but I was nervous because I’d be getting a new audiologist. I loved my last two audiologists – Dr. Louisa Yong Yan Liang and Alyssa Lerner (who was an extern when I had her, but I really liked her). Louisa left Jefferson to go to Chicago since her husband is a doctor and took a job there. Alyssa was in a similar situation where her boyfriend finished medical school and matched with a hospital in St. Louis so she left to be with him. This left me without an audiologist.
With all of that being said, I was happy to hear that there was another audiologist I could see, Laura Somers. However, I was still nervous at the prospect of meeting someone knew and gaining a new audiologist.
Fortunately, all of my nerves went away the moment I met Laura and her extern, Shelby Weinstein. They immediately made a great impression on me. They were as sweet as could be. One of the first things that Laura said was “Were you in an article…something about talking on the phone?” referring to the article that I did with The Philadelphia Inquirer. This right away made a great first impression on me because it showed me that she did her homework to familiarize herself with my case and my history. She was very personable and friendly which helped me to relax and made me feel comfortable during the appointment. She had an extern, Shelby Weinstein, who was also very nice. She was more quiet but friendly and seemed eager to learn. Laura took her time with everything she did to make sure to show Shelby what she was doing and Shelby seemed really interested and engaged with it all.
The first thing that Laura did was check my settings and the volume on my right ear. The right ear was the main focus of my appointment since I’ve been doing so well with the left (which makes sense since it was the first ear I had implanted and it’s really common for your first ear to be your dominant or preferred ear since you’re more used to it and it’s also kind of a mental thing – getting your first cochlear implant is such a huge, impactful thing (or at least it was for me) that you don’t forget it. It’s still big and impactful with the second one, but not as much since you have something great already to compare it to whereas with the first one you may be comparing it to nothing.
Laura explained to me that her main goal was to balance my ears out more. She played a series of sounds/pitches and gave me a “loudness chart” where I had to indicate if the noise was too soft, soft, medium, loud but comfortable, or too loud. Most of the pitches fell in the medium or too soft range. Laura turned it up a little bit. At first it was too loud and a bit overwhelming so she had to turn it down a little bit to make it more level. It seems pretty good now but I am still adjusting to it. I notice it the most when I put my processors on for the first time in the morning.
Next Laura and Shelby took me into the hearing test booth and they tested my right ear. First they did the beeps and I scored in the normal – above normal range. This will never cease to amaze me. I still remember when I’d be lucky to have any ranges or pitches listed on the chart. When I was first considering my first cochlear implant I told my surgeon, Dr. Willcox, that I would consider it a success if I could have about 30% of my hearing (at the time I had at the most about 7%) and he said my expectations were way too low – he wasn’t wrong! Now I probably have around 80-90% of my hearing.
Here’s where my hearing was on 6/29/2017 on my right ear…quite a difference!
This test was from January 28, 2016 – a little over a month after having my left ear activated. The red circles at the bottom were for my right ear. This is almost a year before I had it implanted.
Next, Laura tested me for word recognition with my right ear. I was a little bit nervous here because the last time I was tested for this in my right ear was on March 25, 2015 I didn’t do very well – earning on a 68%.
I didn’t do too well on my first word recognition test back on March 25, 2015…
However, I ended up doing just fine. I knew I was doing well – you really can just tell with these things if you’re doing well or not. The more I felt I got them right the more confident I became. In the end I performed even better than I imagined by earning a 90% – quite a big difference from the 68% I earned the last time!
I only got about 3 of them wrong and I wasn’t off by that much on the ones I missed!
For the final test Laura tested me with full sentences and she added in a high level of background noise – the highest level possible – to make it harder. She admitted that a lot of people with normal, natural hearing struggle with some of these. Honestly I think what makes this hard sometimes is how WEIRD the sentences are. One time I got a sentence that was something along the lines of “The monkey is using sign language.” This time I got “A camel is not the most comfortable animal on which to ride” and “Could you speak up a little?” which isn’t a weird sentence on its own, but when you say it in the context of a hearing test it becomes a little awkward and confusing – Laura actually asked me to repeat it probably because she wasn’t sure if I was saying back the sentence or asking her to repeat herself lol. #DeafProblems – right?
I scored an 84% with this test. I thought that I got about a 70 on the sentences last time but I don’t see a record of it (I keep everything) so now I’m thinking this might have been the first time they did full sentences with my right ear? Either way it would be an improvement and I’m quite happy with these results!
126/150 or an 84%? I’ll take it! It sure beats my pre-cochlear implant scores of 0!
My appointment concluded with Laura calling me a “Rock star” and telling me I was good to go until next year when I should come in just for a checkup unless of course something is wrong. She told me to keep her posted on my book and everything else. I was definitely impressed by both Laura and Shelby’s care and I look forward to working with Laura more in the future and I hope that Shelby stays at Jefferson so I can work with her more in the future as well because she seems like she’s going to be really good once she finishes her schooling.
This week I read 1 Corinthians 14 and it made me think a lot about the history of American Sign Language actually. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is talking to the church of Corinth about speaking in tongues. He acknowledges the ability to speak in tongues as being a spiritual gift from God, however, he strongly urges the church of Corinth not to practice the speaking of tongues unless everyone can do it. Paul explains this by stating, “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.” Men that possess the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues can use it to speak to God, yes, but they shouldn’t use it to speak with the rest of the congregation because they won’t be able to understand him. When we enter the church it should be to honor and glorify God and to help our brothers and sisters and Christ to do the same and to better come to know God and his words. If we can’t even understand what the members of the body of Christ are saying then how can we really come to know God and learn at church, let alone properly worship him in his home?
Paul went so far as to suggest that speaking in tongues could be the equivalent of just making noise without understanding what that noise actually means in verses 7-11. Here he states:
And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? For ye shall speak into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me (1751).
Wow, definitely a lot of things going on in these verses! Let’s look at the first part of this first, verses 7-8:
“And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”
A deaf person may never hear the sounds of a pipe, harp, or trumpet. You could blow that trumpet as hard as humanly possible and that deaf person may never prepare himself to battle if that’s all he has to go on because he’ll never know. To him, the sound of a trumpet is completely meaningless.
For me prior to getting my cochlear implant, I missed out on many sounds. I’ve discovered many of them since getting my cochlear implants, but every day I am also still learning more and more sounds. It’s not uncommon for me to jump a little in class as a train goes by or someone talks or fidgets or I hear an unknown sound. I’m constantly trying to define the source of the sound and what it means. This is what the congregation must’ve been like back in Paul’s time when they tried to understand what the speaker was saying when he spoke in tongues that they did not understand.
I also relate this to ASL. The Deaf community needs ASL so that they can understand what is being said in the church. To them, the verbal communication means nothing. They have no idea what the pastor is preaching without the use of ASL. They will never hear the gospel or understand the message that day. The pastor might as well be speaking in tongues because they’d never know otherwise. Here, Thomas Gallaudet’s arguments for using sign language in the church makes sense.
But hold that thought…
Thomas Gallaudet and the manualists didn’t just think that the use of sign language in the church would help the deaf to better understand sermons; they took it a step further. Gallaudet along with the other manualists felt that sign language would bring the deaf closer to God. In Tracy Morse’s dissertation, “Saving Grace: Religious Rhetoric in the Deaf Community,” she quotes Douglas Baynton’s Forbidden Signs when she says:
For manualists, this view was interpreted in Protestant terms: sign language was an original language and meant “closer to the Creation,” not inferiority (Baynton “Savages” 98). However, for oralists, sign language was associated with lower evolution or “inferior races” (Baynton Forbidden 9). Oralists made arguments that deaf students needed to learn spoken English and lip reading or they would be viewed as animals or savages (Morse 51).
Now, let’s look back to the scripture and focus on verse 11 which states, “Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.
The word “barbarian” here is what stands out the most to me. Do you know who else really loves the word “barbarian”? Alexander Graham Bell who was NOT a manualist like Thomas Gallaudet, but rather an oralist that believed that the deaf needed to move away from sign language and instead learn to speak verbally and read lips and live in the hearing world.
So, what am I saying here? Do I think that this verse is saying sign language is barbaric? Absolutely not, but at the same time, it could be absolutely so. So it’s a yes and a no for me.
Here is what I think that verse is saying, or what the core message Paul has for the church of Corinth is:
We need to speak in a way that people can understand what we are saying in church so as to not cause confusion or anything that can inhibit man’s understanding of the gospel and man’s ability to honor and glorify the lord.
Back in the time of the church of Corinth, speaking in tongues was a barrier for people in the church because it might have benefited the person speaking it, but it did not benefit the church. Paul is calling for the unity of the church – everyone needs to unite as the body as Christ and work in a way that best serves God and not themselves and that involves speaking a universal language they can all understand.
What does this mean for the deaf in the church? Should they be forced to lip-read and practice the oral method? No. I think the deaf should have a right to hear the sermon in a way that is the most accessible to them. Many churches offer the hearing loop to help hard of hearing and deaf people to hear (depending on the degree of hearing loss of course). If a deaf person needs an interpreter, they should have access to it.
If the majority of church attendees are Deaf and rely on sign language, then perhaps that church should consider doing full sermons primarily in ASL, as that is what will benefit that church and help the attendees to learn and honor and glorify God the best.
We don’t have to worry too much about the speaking of tongues in modern day. 1 Corinthians 13:8 says, “Whether there be tongues they shall cease”. People cannot speak in tongues today (I acknowledge that many claim they do – I have my own feelings on that but I’ll be nice and go the route of “no comment” on that…). I think that whereas the church of Corinth had to worry about the speaking in tongues today our issue is more or less about what language or what style/tone to use in church. I think it all depends on the congregation and choosing what is the most accessible to your church goers.
Going back to the discussion on the deaf community…
In Baynton’s Forbidden Signs he explains how many oralists feared that by relying too heavily on sign language the deaf community would isolate themselves from the rest of the world. He stated:
Like their contemporaries in other fields of reform, oralists worried that the lives of people were diminished by being a part of such communities as the deaf community; they would not, it was feared, fully share in the life of the nation. The deaf community, like ethnic communities, narrowed the minds and outlooks of its members. “The individual must be one with race,” one wrote in words reminiscent of many other Progressive reformers “or he is virtually annihilated”; the chief curse of deafness was “apartness from the life of the world,” and it was just this that oralism was designed to remedy. Apartness was the darkness manualists redefined for a new world (Baynton 32).
Sign language was (and still is) very different from spoken English or any spoken language, really It’s different from what the majority is speaking and when people can’t speak our language, either they or we miss out. Isn’t this the same as what was going on in the church of Corinth in a way? Paul wanted to see the church of Corinth come together to honor, serve, and glorify the Lord and to unite as the body of Christ. Speaking in tongues was something very few church members could do that caused a separation or divide between those who could speak and understand it, and those who could not. It became a distraction that kept people from coming to know God.
Is sign language a distraction that keeps the deaf from doing things in their daily lives? It is obvious that it causes a divide from the hearing and the deaf worlds. In the church, it can make things better for the deaf and I can see how it can strengthen their personal relationships with God, but if we only signed and didn’t speak spoken English, the rest of the congregation would suffer. I don’t see sign language as being a form of language that brings a person closer to God in the sense of it’s a superior or holier language than standard English. I think it’s just another language that for some is their primary and therefore the best and for others is just another language in the world that exists but one they don’t partake in or use in their daily lives.