Hey guys! Hope all of my East-coast friends are staying warm and dry in this crazy snow storm!
I don’t know if it’s the snow or what, but I received an incredible surge of inspiration and had a major Eureka moment in regards to the opening chapter of my memoir. I thought a better opening would be something more reflective in which I show what is going through my mind moments before I received my first cochlear implant tied in with flashbacks on my life before I was implanted and the time when I was first diagnosed with profound hearing loss (the yellow brick road chapter).
This needs A LOT of work still, obviously, but I’m pretty happy with the first 1,000 which are the new words that I added today. I am also in the process of interviewing my mom for more details with the original yellow brick road chapter. She said she’d need some time to think about many of the questions I had as she tries to remember, but I’m hoping to get some answers from her soon to better flesh out that chapter/add more details.
Regardless, I hope you enjoy the revised opening chapter. Feel free to leave a comment on this post letting me know what you think!
Entering Into a Technicolor World of Hearing
I’m lying in a hospital bed at Jefferson University hospital in Philadelphia. There is an IV inserted in my right arm and Mom is standing to my left. Dad, who has never been a fan of hospitals, is outside in the waiting room. Everything looks like your typical hospital setting except for two things:
- I am not sick or injured.
- I cannot stop smiling.
My journey begins now. Today I will receive my first cochlear implant, and if all goes well with the surgery and recovery, next month I will be activated and Lord-willing, hear, like a normal hearing person, for the first time in my life.
If this works, my black and white and sometimes sepia world will become technicolor and I will not just hear the sounds I’ve always heard, but I will be able to understand what those sounds are and hear them the way they are supposed to sound. Conversations will sound like actual conversations (without me needing to exhaust myself by practicing heavy lipreading). I’ll know when music is playing, and it will sound like actual music. I may even be able to hear what a flute sounds like. I’ll be able to go to the movies without having to awkwardly ask for a pair of caption glasses which A. The ticket salesman won’t understand, or B. won’t work anyway. After the movies, I may be able to go out to dinner with my friends or a date and order my own food without awkwardly staring at another person as if to say, “Please lend me your ears, I can’t hear a thing the waiter is saying.”
If this works, my world will forever change, hopefully for the better.
If this doesn’t work, I risk losing the approximately 7% total residual or natural hearing I have left in my left ear. This residual hearing is currently being amplified by hearing aids.
Amplify [am-pluh-fahy]. Verb. – Increase the volume of (sound).
Notice how it doesn’t say anything about clarity or being able to understand or comprehend what those sounds are. That’s what’s missing. Hearing aids amplify sound, but they don’t give me any clarity. My cochlear implant is supposed to fix that. But if it doesn’t work, I’ll lose my ability to even amplify sounds. I’ll be left with absolutely nothing in my left ear — silence.
I made a list of the things I want to do post-cochlear implant activation, should this work. It looks like this:
THINGS TO DO POST-COCHLEAR IMPLANT ACTIVATION
- Get caught in the rain.
- Experience church in a whole new way.
- Watch movies without captions.
- See a movie at the drive-in.
- Hear a flute, bell, violin, and any other instrument I couldn’t hear before.
- See an orchestra.
- See a play.
- See a ballet.
- Listen to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” in its entirety.
- Talk on the phone.
- Order food out on my own (restaurant and takeout/Dunkin).
- See a concert (preferably Good Charlotte).
- Hear my cat meow.
- Listen to the radio.
- Hear a cricket chirp.
I didn’t even want to think about what my life would look like if the cochlear implant didn’t work. Would I be forced to learn ASL? Would I join the Deaf community? Could I manage to get by with the remaining, un-implanted ear? Thinking about what would happen if the cochlear implant worked was fun but thinking about the alternatives was terrifying.
I had faith and trust in God that the cochlear implant would work. I prayed constantly and attended church as much as three times in a single day. For the weeks leading up to this day I had both Gloucester County Community Church and Washington Baptist Church praying for and with me and even met with the deacons and deaconesses at both churches.
“God is going to give you an incredible gift. Now it’s your job to figure out how you can use it to serve the Lord,” the deaconess at whose name I cannot recall told me as I met with her in the chapel at GCCC.
I was so excited to begin my new life as a hearing person that as the date of my surgery came closer, sleep became more and more difficult. I’d stay up for 20 or more hours at a time, keeping myself busy by binge watching all 9 seasons of How I Met Your Mother and when I got bored of that, I’d clean everything in sight. I no longer had any concept of time.
“Do you really have to clean your toilet at 3 in the morning? I’m trying to sleep and all I can hear is your toilet flushing,” Mom complained.
“No more cleaning. I don’t wish to smell all of your chemicals first thing in the morning,” Dad pleaded.
Last night, I could hardly sleep at all. The Patriots played the late night 8:15pm game against the Colts.
“Don’t stay up too late, you have a big day tomorrow. You know the Patriots are going to win anyway,” Mom warned.
“Oh, let her stay up. She’s just going to sleep through the surgery anyway. Does it matter if she’s tired?” Dad said.
I stayed up for the whole game and then spent most of the rest of the night in bed, browsing Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram on my phone. By 5:30 AM, I was wide awake, dressed in my brand-new button down fleece pajamas (mom said there was no sense in wearing real clothes, I’d be better off being comfortable and I’d need to wear button downs to avoid pulling shirts over my head post-surgery anyway), and ready, a full two and a half hours before I was scheduled for surgery.
Now the day is finally here. Dr. Wilcox just came in to tell me everything would be okay and to instruct the anesthesia team to begin. I have a plastic mask on my face, covering my mouth and nose. I can hardly keep my eyes open anymore as I feel my body surrender itself to the anesthesia.
When I wake up, I’ll be a cyborg.
In another month, I’ll be activated, and I’ll finally be able to hear, Lord-willing.
If this works, I’ll be able to hear for the first time in my life, or at least, the first time since my mother discovered I was deaf at the mere age of two.
When I was two, Mom would call out my name, but I never responded. When she mentioned it to my pediatrician during my next checkup, the pediatrician 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 clapped behind my back and I didn’t flinch, she knew something was wrong. Against my pediatrician’s advice, 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 hearing loss. What we didn’t realize was how severe my hearing loss was. Miss Terri explained that my hearing loss was profound, meaning the only sounds I could hear were those that were at a volume of 90db or higher such as airplanes, helicopters, firetrucks, and possibly a lawn mower. Hearing aids were recommended to amplify these sounds, but my ability to hear and comprehend sounds, even when amplified, would always be a challenge.
After being diagnosed with profound hearing loss, I made the journey to Camden once every two weeks for speech therapy lessons. 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,” 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,” said mom.
“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.
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. There was nothing actually magical about it; it was just a regular mirror that I was allowed to draw on with magic markers, but I always loved this activity. I was never allowed to draw on the mirrors at home. I thought that this mirror was special since I could draw on it and the markers would wipe right off when I was done. As a two-year-old, the only logical explanation for how this could work was that it must have been magic.
Before I could draw on the mirror, Miss Vicki put me to work by having me practice my speech.
“Okay. Let’s practice our “Sh” and “Ch” sounds,” she’d say. “We’ll start wi“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.
“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.
“Suitcase,” 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. I was able to live my life in black and white or sometimes sepia. My world was full, but not always beautiful or complete. The older I got the more I realized that living as a deaf girl in a hearing world was a lot like living in a world without color.
Hey guys! It’s been awhile. Thanks to being sick with a really weird ear infection (the inner corner of my ear is blistered/inflamed…) I’ve been home bound with a lot of free time this week, so I figured I’d give you all an update.
My MA project is…going. It’s crazy how soon symposium is coming up. I feel so not ready for that, but it’s a month and a half away whether I’m ready or not. It’s definitely crunch time and that means making some hard decisions, too. Among the hardest of decisions was the decision to fire my original second reader. I’d rather not go into details about that decision other than to say it simply wasn’t working for me and I needed more. Fortunately, Professor Block assigned me Katie Budris as a new second reader and everything’s been going much better ever since then, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
My main focus has been on my travel chapters lately. Travel is something that was difficult if not impossible pre-cochlear implants, but since getting implants I’ve been to Disney, Nashville, Chicago, Langhorne, and will very likely be traveling to St. Louis in May. Travel has definitely become very important to me since getting my implants so I really wanted to highlight that in my memoir. However, it’s been a challenge to figure out the best way to approach this topic. I initially only had one chapter on Nashville, but it felt really out of place. Then I tried to write two chapters on Disney…one before cochlear implants and one after cochlear implants. That felt redundant and Professor Block didn’t think I needed the post-cochlear implant Disney chapter at all since he felt it didn’t really add anything to the story.
In my most recent revision which is below for your reading pleasure, I combined both Disney chapters together and re-wrote 90% of the Nashville chapter and combined that in here as well.
Please note this is very much still a rough draft. Some things I want to work on with my next few drafts include my shift in time periods/tenses and transitions between pre-post cochlear implant stories.
As always, I hope you enjoy reading my story and I welcome your feedback!
Traveling Through the Sound Waves of Life
I didn’t sleep at all the night before my high school senior trip to Disney World because I was too excited. I never really been anywhere without my parents before, unless you count sleeping over my Aunt Christ and Uncle Don’s house in Riverside when I was a child (which I don’t). Sure, I wouldn’t really be alone, but just the idea of being away from my parent’s control and in a new city and even taking a flight was cause enough for excitement. Plus, I never been to Florida before.
I never quite understood why so many people hated flying or were afraid of it. I never been on a plane before, but the idea of being up thousands of miles high above the sky thrilled me. I was a little nervous about going through airport security. After all, this was post 9/11 and I heard horror stories on how crazy airport security could be, but even that I was able to brush off as not being a very big deal.
Woodbury High School always did a fantastic job with working with me and my hearing loss. Everyone always knew to speak loudly and to let me see them, so I could read their lips. My mom also instructed me to make sure I always stayed with someone at all times, so they could be my ears, she meant.
“Everyone get out your ID and have them in your hand along with your plane tickets. Everyone must have both in their hands to go through the luggage check. I should not see anyone struggling to find either item and holding up the line at the luggage check,” Mr. Shivers commanded.
I grabbed out both items from my wallet as instructed and clenched them in my fist and allowed my eyes to gaze back and forth between our three main chaperones: Mr. Shivers, Mrs. DiRenzio, and Mr. Cannulli. I kept my eyes fixated on the three of them, fearing that if I so much as blinked I’d miss important instructions which would cause me to miss my flight and the trip at whole.
“Okay, everyone make sure you have your IDs and plane tickets ready and follow me!” Mrs. DiRenzio instructed in a much more pleasant tone than Mr. Shivers.
I followed her behind the rest of my classmates as instructed. I examined each student in front of me as they displayed their IDs to the luggage check attendants along with their plane tickets. I watched them as they lifted their luggage up on a scale, tagged it, and then placed it on the conveyor belt.
Okay. Display ID, place luggage on scale, tag it, and place on the conveyor belt. I got this, I told myself.
Getting through the luggage check was easy enough. I figured that the rest of the airport would be just as easy. Maybe this isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be after all, I thought.
I looked for Mrs. DiRenzio in the sea of faces and followed her along with the rest of my classmates as she helped to lead everyone upstairs to the security line. I watched as the people in front of me held out their IDs and plane tickets. I watched as people took off their shoes, belts, and jewelry. I found it strange that people had to remove their shoes. It seemed impossible to me that anyone could hide a bomb in such a small place, but apparently, it’s already happened before.
“EVERYONE TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES AND KEEP YOUR ID AND PLANE TICKET IN YOUR HANDS. REMOVE BELTS AND JEWELRY. DON’T HOLD UP THE LINE. KEEP MOVING,” Mr. Shivers yelled to the crowd of students. I’ve been concentrating so much on Mrs. DiRenzio that I didn’t even notice that he was already upstairs. Mr. Cannuli must be the only one left downstairs, I thought.
I already had my ID and plane ticket in my hand along with my carry-on strapped to my back. I didn’t have on a belt or any jewelry, so I assumed I was safe as far as metal items were concerned. I untied my shoes and took them off and carried them in my hands and moved forward in line, waiting for my turn.
As the line moved closer to the security check point, I could see the people in front of me grabbing bins to place their shoes and belongings in. As soon as the bins were within reach I grabbed one to place my shoes, cell phone, and, carry on in.
Nice and easy. I’m almost done. This isn’t bad at all, I thought.
I was wrong. Very very very wrong.
Once I walked through the body scanner, the alarm sounded. Metal.
Except, I couldn’t hear the metal detector go off. It made a high-pitched beeping sound that was out of the range of my hearing capabilities.
“I need you to stand over here,” the security guard said as she pointed away from the line.
“Wait — what’s happening?” I said as I felt my face get hot. All of my classmates and everyone else still in line was staring at me.
“Point out your items,” she said. Except I couldn’t hear her. Puh. Items.”
“What? I’m sorry, I can’t hear you,” I explained.
“Puh,” she repeated.
“I’m sorry I’m hearing impaired,” I said.
Mrs. Direnzio came to my rescue to see what was going on. I was about ready to burst into tears. What was that woman saying? Why was everyone staring at me as if I was some sort of a criminal?
“Kim, do you have on a belt, any jewelry, or anything metal?” she asked. She pointed to her waist and her wrist as make-shift signs, so I’d be able to understand what she meant.
“No, I don’t have anything on,” I said.
I saw her ask the security guard a question that I can only assume was something along the lines of, “What do you need her to do?”
The security guard relayed a message back to Mrs. DiRenzio and she repeated it to me. “Kim, she needs you to point out your things. Which items on the conveyor belt are yours?”
“Okay, is that everything?” she asked.
“Kim, you set off the metal detector, but don’t worry it’s okay. It happens. You’re not in trouble. They just need to do a pat down and move their wand over your body,” she explained.
I nodded. I didn’t hear all of what she said, but it looked like she was signaling that they had to search me for something. Did they think I had a weapon? I was scared.
The female security guard explained to me that she would be patting down my entire body including my breasts, buttocks, and in between my legs. She asked me if I understood, so I nodded. I’m not entirely sure what is going on, but I just want to go to Disney, I thought.
The next thing I knew the woman was groping every inch of my body. She did exactly what she told me she was going to do, but it still felt so wrong. I felt as if she was violating me, even though I knew in the back of my head she was only doing her job. My classmates stood by and watched. I was humiliated.
After she finished patting me down, she ran a hand scanner over my body again. It was still going off, but I could not hear it. I watched as the lights flashed on the scanner. Something was wrong.
She ran it through again, this time more slowly. She stopped when she reached my head.
“Are you wearing any earrings or jewelry?” she asked.
“No,” I said.
“She has hearing aids, could that be it?” Mrs. DiRenzio asked.
“Possibly,” the security guard said.
“Do your hearing aids contain any metal? Mrs. DiRenzio asked.
“Nnnn-ot really. But they take batteries which have metal.” I said, my voice trembling in fear.
“Can you take those off for me?” the security guard asked.
I nodded and pulled both hearing aids out of my ears. I looked at Mrs. DiRenzio for approval.
“You can sit them down here for a minute,” she said as she pointed to a small counter.
I placed my hearing aids on the counter and then spread out my legs and arms as instructed. The security guard once again waved her hand scanner across my body. Except this time, it never flashed or set off any alarms.
“That must be it. Okay you’re good to go,” she said.
Mrs. DiRenzio lead me to where my items were and I put my shoes back on and gathered my things. I apologized to my classmates for the delay.
“Don’t worry about it,” Mrs. DiRenzio said. “Are you okay?”
I nodded, although I still wanted to cry out of humiliation. This has been the worst experience of my life.
“Don’t worry. You’ll be in Disney soon. The worst is over!” she said.
I smiled. She’s right. Soon I’ll be in Disney, the most magical place on Earth, I thought.
But it turns out, the trouble was only just beginning.
I tried my best to just stay with my group and my roommate Sam. I figured so long as I followed them I’d be fine.
This philosophy worked well at first. We went exploring in Magic Kingdom and took a bunch of photos at Cinderella’s castle together. We also enjoyed the spinning tea cups, Space Mountain, and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. It was an estimated 100 degrees in Florida that day, so the parks weren’t at all crowded and the lines were short except for the more popular attractions like Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, but even that wasn’t too long of a wait.
When my group decided that they wanted to go on the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride, I decided to pass. I’ve never been much a fan of rides that spin like that, probably due to my fear of heights, so I decided to wait for them. Besides, I spotted a souvenir stand that was selling unique black and white baseball hats featuring Walt Disney with Mickey Mouse. I thought it would make the perfect gift to bring back home to my dad.
I walked up to the stand and took a closer look at the baseball hats and made a purchase. Then I began to walk back to the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride in search of my group. I figured the ride should be over by that point.
I looked all around, but I didn’t recognize any of the faces. I walked around and around and around the ride, but I had no luck.
Why didn’t they wait for me? They were supposed to wait for me. I thought.
I grabbed out my phone to check the time. It was nearing 12:30 and we were supposed to meet back at the gate for check in by 1. Well, I better get going back anyway. I thought before making my way back.
There was just one major problem:
I couldn’t remember my way back.
Was I supposed to move forward? Go backwards? Left? Right? I had no idea. I remembered seeing the different characters carved out of bushes and shrubs by the entrance. If I could find them again, I’d be in the right area. I looked around me…nope, no shrubs or bushes or characters in sight.
I decided to just go back. Going back rather than forward sounded right. After all, it would be going backwards from where we came, right?
I walked and I walked and I walked. My feet were achy and blistered and I was soaked in sweat and beginning to dehydrate. The 100 degree Florida weather and the hot Florida sun rays were really beginning to take their toll on me, but I needed to get back to the entrance for check in, so I kept walking.
I looked down at my phone again. It was now 1:03. I was already late. Time to ask for help.
I stopped at a souvenir stand, similar to the one that sold the Mickey Mouse hats that got me into this whole mess and I asked the man, “Excuse me. Excuse me sir, can you tell me how I can get back to the main gate?”
The man was not American; I’d guess and say he was either Mexican or Indian and he spoke broken English. That mixed with my deafness meant that I couldn’t understand a word he said. Still, I thanked him for his time and pretended I knew exactly where to go.
I kept walking until I found another souvenir stand to ask for help, but it was just the same experience all over again. Finally, I pulled out my cellphone and called my mom’s work. I didn’t know how she would help being that I was in Florida and she was back home in New Jersey, but I also knew that she was Mom and Mom could do anything.
Before she even said, “Hi” she asked me, “What’s wrong?”
I began to sob. I told her how I was lost and I was missing check in but only because I couldn’t find the gate and how I got lost because my group didn’t wait for me after riding Dumbo the Flying Elephant. I cried about how I was afraid I’d get in trouble and not be allowed out tomorrow or worse – that I’d be sent home for missing check in. I was so scared, and I just let all of my emotions pour out.
“Relax. Ask someone for help,” she said.
“I tried and I can’t hear them,” I cried.
“Kim I’m in NJ. I can’t help you. Where are you at now?” she asked.
“I don’t know. By a stand or something,” I said.
“Okay the doctor is going to look up a map of Magic Kingdom on his work computer and try to help you. We will call you back. Stay where you are.” She said.
A few minutes later I received another phone call from my mom’s boss, Dr. Roth, but I could not hear him.
“Hello? I said. Are you there?” I can’t hear you.
I heard my mom in the background; they must have put the phone on speaker.
“Kim, Dr. Roth is on the phone. He’s trying to help you.”
“Hi Kim, I want you to go.”
“Wait? What? I can’t hear you,” I said.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Kim, just go.”
I began to cry again. I was so scared. I couldn’t hear a word that anyone was saying, and I was lost in not only a new place, but a whole new state. I felt completely helpless.
I hung up the phone and kept walking, in what felt like circles. I passed Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin for what felt like the hundredth time along with the spinning swings. I lost count of the number of helpless souvenir stands I passed. Why was it that the more I walked, the further away I felt? Still, I kept trying, hoping that even if I didn’t make it to the gate, I’d find someone I recognized that could take me there.
After approximately another twenty minutes, my wish came true and I found Mrs. DiRenzio.
“What happened?” she asked.
“My group wanted to go on a ride and I didn’t want to go on it, so I was waiting for them and as I was waiting I stopped by a souvenir shop and when I came back they were gone and I kept trying to get back, but I couldn’t find my way. I am so so so sorry. I know I missed check in, but I’ve been trying to get back since around 12:30.”
“It’s okay. You’re not in any trouble. Just try to do a better job of staying with and communicating with your group next time,” she said. I nodded to let her know I understood.
When we finally arrived back to the gate I apologized to my classmates for keeping them waiting. Then we took our class photo in front of the bushes that were carved into Mickey and Minnie and the sign welcoming us to Disney before receiving information on our next steps such as when and where to meet up for the next check in and when the buses would arrive to take us back at the hotel. I couldn’t hear anything, so I just nodded and made a mental note to ask someone in my group later, or to just follow everyone else. I knew one thing for certain was that I wouldn’t leave anyone ever again. If they went on a ride, so would I. If they went to a shop, so would I. If they went to the bathroom, even if I didn’t have to go, so would I. I wasn’t going to risk getting lost again.
It’s April 11, 2017. It has been over two years since my first cochlear implant, and one since going bilateral. I am sitting at a table making small talk with Kerry Flynn, the Business Editor at Mashable, while sipping away at a bottle of Coors Light and eating an assortment of southern food in the beautiful and historic Bell Tower located in the heart of Nashville. Our conversation feels forced and she is looking at me weird for asking her whether she knows my old high school classmate, Natalie DiBlasio. I regret asking her this question immediately after it slips from my lips. Of course she doesn’t know Natalie. Natalie’s never worked for Mashable…she works for Wired; Mashable’s top competitor, I think. Still, despite my nerves and awkwardness I am stoked to be talking to someone who works for Mashable, and I even have a photo of us together to bring back home to all of the people who would never believe that this night actually happened.
Kerry isn’t the only important person I’ve met tonight. I also chugged shots of Tennessee whiskey with Leah Schultz, the Social Media Manager at Papa Johns along with Scott Plocharcyk, Director of Business Development and Micah Donahue, Leads Brand Engagement Strategy both at Mechanica. Out of all of the people I’ve met at this conference so far, Leah has been my favorite. She only looks at the most a few years older than me, but she is insanely smart. The key takeaway I’ve gotten from her presentations on social listening has been to HAVE FUN on social media and to not worry so much about politics. Penn could sure learn a thing or two from her, I thought.
Scott and Micah are both very nice to me and seem to be following me everywhere, but I can’t tell how sincere they are. Do they actually like me for who I am, or do they like me because I work for Penn Medicine? I only like Kerry because she works at Mashable, but that’s obvious by our forced conversation. The conversation with Scott and Micah flows naturally, but I can’t help but feel this is only because A. They want me to tell my boss about Mechanica so they can earn a new client, or B. They are fascinated in my cochlear implants because they’ve never seen them before. I decide that it doesn’t matter either way; the fact that I am able to talk to business professionals, let alone drink whiskey with them, in a crowded bar with a cover band playing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is pretty amazing in and of itself.
I don’t remember much about what Leah, Scott, Micah, and I talked about that night other than our jobs and responsibilities and my cochlear implants. I blame all of the alcohol on my foggy memory, after all, I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a moment throughout the entire conference when I didn’t have either a beer, glass of champagne, or shot of whiskey in hand (I’m not sure if the purpose of the conference was to teach us about an unenterprised approach to social media marketing or what type of alcohol was the best to drink in Nashville…to this day the topic is still open to debate), but I do remember how proud I was to be holding conversations and networking with so many top business executives and to not have to say “What?” or “I’m sorry, can you repeat yourself?” every .02 seconds. I was proud to be doing this all on my own, without my mother holding my hand or the need to look at a co-worker or manager for approval. As each glass of alcohol ran through my veins I felt myself loosening up more and more and I finally felt free – free to be whoever I wanted to be in a brand new city filled with new people. Free to hear the music that constantly played throughout the capital of country music. Free to be a deaf girl in a hearing world, and free in my knowledge that my deafness no longer mattered one iota.
Originally, Mom and Dad were both hesitant to allow me to go on this trip.
“I think Mom should go with you. She can help you with the airport and everything and keep you safe. I don’t know anything about Nashville, but I heard that Memphis could be a little rough. I don’t think it’s a good idea to go by yourself,” Dad said.
“I’ll be fine,” I said. “I’ll be with a lot of other people – it’s a big conference. Besides, Penn will only pay for my own airfare and Mom can’t get into the conference…what will she do when I’m working?”
“I’ll hang out in the hotel. I’m sure they have a pool or something,” Mom replied.
“You’re going to spend over $1,000 to hang out alone in a hotel and use the pool?” I asked. The entire thing sounded completely ridiculous.
“I’m fine with it. This way I can help you out. I know how much you hate the airport. Remember Disney?” she asked.
“Yeah, but I’m going to have to figure this out for myself at some point. People at Penn travel all the time. You can’t always come with me,” I said.
“What about your schooling? Will they be okay with you skipping class and cancelling your classes?” my mom asked.
That’s when it hit me: I could use my schooling to my advantage. My parents knew that it had been a challenging semester for me as I began the research process for my MA project. I have been reading, analyzing, and examining everything in sight and growing more and more frustrated from it all in the process. I worked constantly and rarely ever slept anymore. I even ended up accidentally overdosing on caffeine two weeks into the semester. It made sense that they’d worry about me missing this class, but I knew exactly how to get around it.
“Actually, this will count as research for my MA project, so Dr. Kopp is fine with me missing class and Dr. Maxson and Dr. Courtney don’t mind. They know I’m not screwing off, that I have a legitimate reason for missing class and cancelling my students’ classes. It’s all for my MA project,” I lied.
“What? How?” my mom asked.
“We’re allowed to use experiences for our research, so I want to write what it’s like to travel alone with cochlear implants and to fly alone and all of that,” I said.
“But it’s not your first trip with your cochlears. You flew to Disney with Larry right after you were implanted. Isn’t that the same thing?” Dad asked.
“No because I had him there to help me and that’s when I only had one cochlear. Now I have two and I’ve never done anything completely by myself before,” I explained.
“Okay. I still think I should go with you, but I understand why you want to do this. But we’ll see.
“I’ll be fine.” I said, “Besides, Penn only pays for my flight anyway.”
“We have the money. That’s not a problem,” mom said. “I could help you, but I understand why you want to do this.”
“I’ll be fine,” I said. The truth was I was a little bit nervous flying on my own for the first time, but I knew I had to do this for myself just to prove I could do it, if for no other reason. The idea of flying alone to a whole new place also thrilled me. It would be a completely new experience where I could become anyone I wanted to be without the fear of what my friends, family, or anyone else would think. I didn’t even have any co-workers traveling with me, so even work wasn’t much of an issue.
As I partied with the fellow business executives and conference attendees at the Bell Tower that night, I couldn’t help but feel proud. I was proud for finally branching out on my own. Proud for finally doing things without my parents or colleagues around dictating my every move. Proud for making it through not one, but two airports on my own without even being on the verge of an emotional breakdown. Proud for my newfound ability to wander around the 526-square mile town of Nashville on my own without getting lost even once. Proud of my ability to make small talk even in noisy environments and to be able to follow and hear every word.
While I may have felt proud, I also knew better than to allow all of my pride to get to my head. There was another word floating around my mind that triumphed any ounce of pride I may have felt. That word was Blessed.
I was blessed to be having this experience right now, that was due in no small part to my newfound gift of hearing. I knew that this experience wouldn’t have been possible just two years prior before I received my first cochlear implant. I remembered how difficult travel was in the past when I only had my hearing aids and very limited modes of technology on hand to help me out. Now that I could hear, I no longer had to depend so heavily on others to “be my extra set of ears”. I could be my own, independent person. I had an entire world in front of me. The only question I had was Where should I travel to next?
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.