I Need to See You Speak

My very first memory of needing to see someone speak in order to hear them comes from my early childhood, during Sunday School at the church where my mother sent us to worship.  I say “sent us”, as Mom rarely would go to church with my older sister and me.  Most Sunday mornings we were primped and polished, dressed in our Sunday best, buckled into our patent leather shoes, and sent on our way for the walk to the church, just the two of us.  My sister always made sure I got to my Sunday School room, she looked out for me, though sometimes I would cling to her and not want to go in, never realizing, fully, the reason for my reluctance until years later.

Each week, at the end of our Sunday School lesson, the teacher would lead us in prayer, instructing “Every head bowed, every eye closed.”  I would bow my head and close my eyes, attempting obedience, but once the prayer began I would instinctively look up to see the words on the lips of my teacher.  If, during the prayer, my gaze was met by Mrs. M’s opened eyes looking back at me, her harsh glare of displeasure was enough to send my head downward and clench shut my eyelids so tight for the prayer to take.  I was then left feeling like I had done something so wrong and that God would not hear the prayer of such a defiant child.

It wasn’t until adulthood that I was able to recall this memory, and with it came the realization that I could not hear at an even earlier age, even younger than when I flunked the hearing test in grade school.  Ironically, the realization that God did not share in my Sunday School teacher’s quick and errant judgment came much sooner from an incident at the very same church.  At the tender age of eight, I stomped home after having been turned away from the summer Vacation Bible School because I was dressed in baggy shorts instead of the required culottes.  I knew then that “little old me” knew more about God’s love than those adults at the church in town.  My God, the One I know, would have taken my chin in His hand, lifted my face to the heavens, and welcomed my prayer offered with opened eyes.  My God didn’t care that I wasn’t compliant with one particular church’s dress code.  God really isn’t as picky as everyone makes Him out to be.

Had my Sunday School teacher called me on my defiance, I would have not been able to explain the why of my watching her pray, as I did not know myself, at that point, the reason for my disobedience.  Was my Sunday School teacher a bad person, someone who was mean-spirited, judgmental, harsh, or intolerant?  No, I knew Mrs. M all through my childhood and teenage years and she was a very nice lady.  Her only offense was in making a wrong assumption.  Much the same as the many people I have met throughout my lifetime who lack the sensitivity needed to recognize when someone is different.  Most often those assuming individuals would be, and are, mortified by their quick judgments and wrong assumptions once they are made aware of them, as they should be.  But that fact doesn’t excuse one’s laziness in looking for the true reason for another’s behavior.

Due to my lack of hearing, I have been accused of purposely ignoring, being stuck up, and rude, none of which is true.  However, once I explain to whomever I have offended that I can’t hear, they are most always mortified.  I do little to stroke their ego once it is wounded, as I believe insensitivity warrants the reflection that mortification can bring.  I allow them their feelings, not out of any warped sense of vengeance, but in the hope that the experience teaches them to not be so hasty when they are next presented with a situation that requires them to be more thoughtful about a person’s behavior.

Thank God for those who look for the deeper meaning in things.  Those who are not quick to judge, those who do not jump to easy conclusions, and those who resist making assumptions.  I would like to think I am among them, as I try to be sensitive, but the reality is that every one of us falls short at one time or another.  But the good news is, there are more people who are as clued-in than clueless.  However, we can all take pause and reflect on how sensitive we are, and look for what one’s behavior might be an indication of.  Let’s all give the sensitivity that we want in return, and let that sensitivity extend beyond hearing issues.

0 thoughts on “I Need to See You Speak

  1. That’s a very poignant observation you have made…so many assumptions that prove to be wrong even by otherwise nice people.

    I’ve been known to be profoundly deaf since age 18 months, and have been in specialized schools or programs nearly all of my childhood, and still people made wrong assumptions.

    Hearing people are so habituated to hearing that they don’t realize how much environmental information comes in that way and so are baffled or angry when a deaf child appears to be stubborn.

    An early memory of being banished to the dunce corner was when a teacher suddenly became angry at me during a class. I was sitting quietly, moving a paper back and forth while waiting my turn. It apparently made noise that upset the teacher badly, but at five years old I had no idea. That teacher had a deaf son nearly my age, so it made me think in retrospect that hearing people simply HAVE NO IDEA even if very close to the children.

    Imagine if people are farther from the issue or have no experience with deaf people. Que la difference!

  2. I have a friend, he is a prayer in his area, I met him on a deaf/hard of hearing dating site my . He is hard of hearing, 45 yrs.
    “but once the prayer began I would instinctively look up to see the words on the lips of my teacher. If, during the prayer, my gaze was met by Mrs. M’s opened eyes looking back at me, her harsh glare of displeasure was enough to send my head downward and clench shut my eyelids so tight for the prayer to take. I was then left feeling like I had done something so wrong and that God would not hear the prayer of such a defiant child. “, I had similar experience when I was a little child. But I think I will remember that thing forever.

  3. Oh man, it is SO embarrassing to be doing something that you don’t realize makes a noise! Squeaky chairs in meeting rooms, papers on tables, and even breathing too loudly, heh.

  4. This is a wonderful post. I, too, can relate. I have asked my pastor over and over again (in a different church than I go to now) to face the congregation when he prays. But, he always forgets and turns away, facing the altar. I wrote about this very issue in my blog about a year ago.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Laurie in TN

  5. I am sorry for your negative experience with an insensitive teacher. I am sure being “banished to the dunce corner” for simply being a child, is a memory that you look back on and consider a trauma. One would think a teacher, especially one who teaches in a specialized setting with a deaf son of her own, would be more sensitive to her deaf students? I hope over the years this particular teacher has learned something, but the truth is, there are some who go through life learning little. I hope you can take this memory and focus on what you learned from it, for surely, even at five years old, you recognized the value of sensitivity. Pass it on…

    And yes, it is embarrassing to make noise that others hear, but you don’t. I often had coworkers tell me that I breathed and sighed really loud. I have asked my family to tell me when I do things that are loud in an effort to possibly keep those things in check. Just one more thing that we who lack hearing have to worry about. The list is endless!!!

  6. I so understand what you mean by assumptions being made. Sometimes you just can’t win. People think all kinds of things. This is why self-disclosure is so important for the deaf/hh, BEFORE people make the wrong assumption. But of course when you’re a little child and don’t know you can’t hear, that’s impossible. My hearing loss wasn’t diagnosed until I was 19. I suffered countless embarrassing moments just as you’ve described because I didn’t know I couldn’t hear and therefore didn’t learn how to accommodate or advocate for myself. Difficult times, especially during the teen years.

    I haven’t been to church (except funerals and weddings) in quite some time because of my inability to hear. About ten years ago, it hit me. . .God is always everywhere. You don’t have to sit in a church to pray. I now have a small altar where I meditate peacefully in my own home.

  7. I too have all but given up going to church. Occasionally I will go to mass with my family, but unless I sit close enough to hear the priest and speakers, I catch little that is said (I do not sign) and find that my attention wanders. During prayer I can offer up my own thoughts, concerns, and praise, but often during the service, when there is nothing to read along with, I find myself doing the most un-church-like things–making hand puppet shadows (when standing) on the seat of the pew in front of me, people watching to see who is a “do” and who is a “don’t”. LOL I feel a tad disrespectful, but I like to think God is having a chuckle at my expense. He was a good friend as a child and he remains that to this day. However, I do realize church is not a place to try to make God laugh… I am so bad! Still a child at heart.


  8. Hello – I enjoyed this post and it’s comments.

    My 11 yr old son has moderate hearing loss – and he also went thru a rough time in 3rd grade just a few years ago. The teacher thought he was mis-behaving – rather than not hearing her. Apparently, she thought because he wore his hearing aids – that meant he could hear everything. My husband and I made the same mistake initially – so, I can’t even blame her too much. It was more her insistance on it, even when presented with evidence to the contrary that I found so hard to take.

    I’ve had to learn myself so much – and try to help others understand what hearing loss entails because they almost never do. And, let’s face it – I’m sure I’ll never really “get it” either since I’m not the one with the hearing loss.


  9. Deb,

    What matters is that you are trying to “get it” as much as one who still has their hearing can. Such is a mother’s love.

    Keep being an advocate for your son until the time when he has enough confidence and knowledge to be an advocate for himself, and let that be a goal. I didn’t have anyone advocating for me when I was a child and it is so much more difficult to gain that confidence in adulthood than in childhood. What a lucky boy to have a parent so involved in helping others “get it”. :o)

  10. Thank you Michele. I appreciate the kind words. =) Yup – that’s the goal (to get him to self-advocate). He is on the shy side… so, it’s a bit of a struggle. Middle school might be a bit of a rough transition and will most likely force him to start self-advocating more. In the mean time, I’ve got his back.

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