The Sound of an Island

WOULD YOU RATHER…be DEAF or BLIND? Most of you will answer deaf: how can one imagine the insecurity of not seeing where we are going? (even though we manage just fine walking down the road with our heads in our phones following the blue dot!) Nor seeing our loved ones’ faces? Or – worse yet- being unable to check our outfits in the mirror in the morning?!

And yet, Helen Keller, the amazing woman who was both deaf and blind but was taught to sign and speak and who then became a prolific writer and public speaker (#legend!!!), when asked which was worse surprisingly chose deafness. Being blind she said, cuts us off from things whereas being deaf cuts us off form people. Profound right? But true.

If we were to lose our sight we could use a kick-arse combo of adaptive technology, a trusty white stick and a friendly, trained canine to navigate the darkness. And we could dine with our family and listen to the TV (nearly) as per usual (given half of us listen to the TV while looking at our mobiles anyway, I say ‘as per usual’).

Whereas if one were to go deaf…

How many of our friends and family would actually put in the time, effort and cost to learn sign language? Reallllly? And to learn it well enough to communicate freely and fluently? And what of the painful, silent months in between while we all muddle through whilst learning?

And then there’s the person in the shop or the assistant at the tube.  There’s the infuriating, saddening loneliness of dinner parties or group coffee catch ups where everyone chats ways and you are stuck trying to lip read friends’ blurred mouths. Eesh. What isolation.

Thankfully I am neither deaf nor blind. But I do have trouble with my hearing. I know the separation of being in a group and laughing along to a joke I couldn’t hear; of saying ‘excuse me’ in order to have someone repeat what they said, only to not ear it the second or third time and give up.  I know the unnerving feeling of not quite knowing what’s going on in a situation or conversation. The feeling, the muffled sound of being on a social peninsula-connected to everyone on the mainland but standing a little way off by oneself surrounded by waves.

deaf image

Ah but there are hearing aids you say! Why yes, and many are amazing and wonderfully life-transforming. But unless they are the snazzy, discreet, oh-so costly ones, they generally amplify *all* sound-the cutlery banging on plates, the traffic passing the open window and the chatter of everyone in the venue, not just the friends’ in whose conversation one so dearly wishes to play a part.

So whilst hearing aids may be the way to go later on, in the meantime, I’ll get used to occasional half conversations and disjointed murmurings; I’ll practise enjoying silence and I’ll get used to the sporadic fear until it subsides.  And I’ll enjoy the lapping and splashing sounds of my peninsula-which my husband and, hopefully, my dearest friends will visit if ever my peninsula becomes an island.

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