Monday, March 23, 2009
My grown son is profoundly deaf. Meaning, if he was standing next to a jet engine just as it began accelerating to takeoff, he would feel the vibration, but he wouldn’t hear a sound. Nothing. His hearing loss is absolute.
Through the years he and I have often discussed the state of my hearing and his deafness and the difference each has made in our lives. As he has grown, I have stopped focusing on everything he has missed and started paying more attention to all that he has not. And he has gained the maturity necessary to eloquently express the experience of being deaf. I think I have given him a general understanding of the concept of hearing. More importantly, he has given me a glimpse of what it means to hear nothing at all.
This peek into the exclusive, absolutely silent world that so few humans inhabit, has allowed me to understand at least a little, not only the downsides of being deaf, but the upsides as well. The ability to focus, the lack of distraction and the heightened awareness of your other senses. The benefits of thinking visually and processing information in pictures rather than verbally and in words. The ability to express yourself in a far more eloquent language that utilizes your whole body, not just your mouth. And the utter lack of self consciousness when it comes to the noises your body and your emotions make, because you never hear them.
Most importantly I have learned through him the sense of ease and comfort in silence, something that does not come easily to hearing people. We are so accustomed to the noisy accompaniment to our lives that we can’t function without the TV or radio blaring while we are on the phone, running the vacuum cleaner and standing next to the washing machine as it spins.
I have also learned that my silence, at its most silent, is considerably noisier than his. As a person who’s hearing functions properly, I will never be able to hear the silence he experiences. If I was in a sound proof booth, I would still hear my breathing, my pulse, the creak of my knee, the sound of my upper and lower teeth connecting. My son has never heard music, or sirens or bells … or his own breath.
But even though the silence I experience is louder than his, he has taught me the comfort that can be found in quiet. So now, when I get a few moments to spend listening to absolutely nothing, I try and take the time to enjoy it.