This past weekend was the 234th Marine Corps Birthday Ball. I had been looking forward to the Ball, but also had been dreading placing myself in the kind of situation I struggle with–a noisy crowd of strangers, numerous introductions, low lighting, music–the general roaring mix of 250 people in an enclosed space, and not a clue as to what everyone is talking about. I did okay, but the evening wasn’t without it’s challenges.
Initially, when I found out we were to be seated at an elevated table (it ran the entire length from the podium to the far wall, seating the Commanding Officer, both 1st Sgts., the Guest of Honor, and their guests), to the immediate left of the podium, I was not elated, but after thinking on it I decided that my seat location was more of a savings grace than the curse it proved to be, as having the seat closest to the podium, on the end, I wasn’t in a position for anyone else at the table to talk to me, other than my husband, seated next to me. Not that I am anti-social, I love talking to people, but in such a noisy environment I often find myself thankful that I am not in a position to be spoken to from across a distance. I really hate having to be thankful for that. Sigh…
Also, I thought being the closest to the speaker would mean I had the best seat for lip/speech reading, but in reality it wasn’t so, as I had a hard time reading lips in profile, which caused me to zoom my attention in on whomever was speaking, with an intensity beyond what is normal. And, as we who cannot hear know, normal, for us, is already pretty intense.
Add to all of that the fact my husband, a participant in the ceremony, was not seated next to me until just before the meal was served. And, as an additional consideration, because of my seat placement there was no one between me and the speaker to take cues from.
Drum roll please… the good news, I rose and sat at the appropriate times during the prayer and the National Anthem. However, as the Guest of Honor spoke, an eighty-four year old Marine recounting his experiences in WWII, I was watching so diligently that I failed to notice the entire banquet hall rising to their feet in applause, as the speaker paused.
Relaxing a bit while clapping, I looked away from the podium for the first time, realizing I was the only person seated. Not so noticeable when you are part of the crowd, but very noticeable when you are sitting at the front of a banquet hall, at an elevated table, within three feet of the podium, from which a speaker is commanding the attention of the entire hall of 250 people.
I’m sure many wondered why I did not join them in standing ovation, a few possibly thought I was simply being rude (the only person I knew was my husband, and save the few I was introduced to, most didn’t know I couldn’t hear), but I remained seated, as rising at this point would have brought even more attention to the fact that I was the only one who was not standing. If I’ve learned anything at all from years of attending my children’s piano recitals, if you hit a wrong note don’t bring attention to it by making a big deal of it. Just play on as if it was the right note all along. I remained seated.
I later apologized to the Guest of Honor and his two daughters, and they were very gracious and understanding, as the Guest of Honor himself struggles with hearing loss.
Just a few short years ago I would have been mortified in a similar situation, but thankfully I’ve learned to cut myself some slack, though I still would sometimes like to announce to the crowd, at the beginning of a banquet, sporting event, conference, etc., “Hello, my name is Michele and I cannot hear. If at any point during our time together, I appear confused, fail to rise or be seated at the appropriate time, speak out when I should be silent, remain silent when I should respond, or display any other behavior that might seem out of the ordinary, please do not think of me as rude, ignorant, unpatriotic, disrespectful, irreverent, or any of the other wrong assumptions I’ve encountered from people over the years. I cannot hear, which often causes me to react inappropriately. Thank you.”
And to all of those family members and friends who step in to cue and clue us in when something is happening that we have missed because we can’t hear, THANK YOU!!!! We often don’t realize how much we need an assistant until we are without one.