SayWhatClub Online Voices January 2011

Silent Night

Kim Ward
Copyright 2011

It happened just after I showed up for dinner on Christmas Eve, that foreboding beep that signals my batteries are about to die. I remembered thinking it was getting close to that time before leaving home, but with all the other things I had to bring -- two salads, a borrowed pie plate, gifts, the camera -- I had forgotten to pack along an extra set of batteries.

So here I was at a Christmas Eve dinner with twenty-one people and my batteries were about to go dead. If I were familiar with the neighborhood, I might have gotten back into the car and driven off to find a drug store, but we were in my husband’s old stomping grounds -- a section of Seattle I didn’t know well. And it was Christmas Eve. Stores were closing early. BEEEEEEP-BEEEEEEP. I searched the room and saw my husband making faces at our three-year-old grand-nephew giggling in fits. No way could I ask him to leave this.

Then and there I made the decision to spend the evening deaf as a stump.

Ten years ago that would have been unimaginable. I would have spent an hour driving down unfamiliar streets for a couple of batteries just so I could fake my way through an evening of chatter I could barely hear. This time I did the unthinkable.

“Hey everyone?” I announced, “My batteries are dead. I’m about as deaf as a stump here tonight. If you have anything to say to me, say it directly to my face, cuz otherwise I won’t hear." The party was so big I had to announce it maybe five or six more times for it to sink in.

It’s funny. Normally I rely on lip reading even with my hearing aids, but now that I wasn’t wearing them, everyone was so much more accommodating that I hardly noticed a difference. Without all the loud hearing aid distortion the evening turned out to be far less exhausting than usual. No one expected me to hear, since they knew I couldn’t.

At one point my father-in-law apparently tried to get my attention several times without any luck. Then he made a joke, as only he can. “Oh! I forgot!” he said, “Her batteries died.” The crowd roared with laughter. Finally I turned to ask why everyone was laughing. When he repeated his joke, there was a slight lull as everyone waited to see how I would react. Is it politically correct to make wise cracks about dead hearing aid batteries? Probably not. I cracked up, and everyone laughed with me this time. In the past, his joke would have been mortifying but I have learned to laugh at my deafness.

Maybe if he himself did not have a pacemaker and plastic hips the joke might have hurt, but we live in a world where we replace our worn out parts with artificial bionic, plastic, robotic, whatever. It is miraculous -- and hilarious when you think about how our fake parts can malfunction in different ways than our real parts. We are not alone. People with hearing loss are not the only ones who depend on batteries, wires or plastic to get through the day. At least we don’t need pills.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about what it means to educate hearing people about hearing loss and deafness. There are so many right ways to do this. Not all of us are activists. Sometimes it’s just a matter of opening up, of being real, and seeing the humor.

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