“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”Matthew 10:29-31, ESV
Quite the caption right? I have been wanting to write about this for a while but did not feel empowered to do so until this past Easter weekend. Every Easter weekend my home church in College Station, A&M Church of Christ, goes to Dallas to participate at Leadership Training for Christ (LTC). At this “convention” type thing there is a signing event that utilizes ASL interpreting for students to be involved with. For the last two years I have been involved with judging the event.
And what made me want to write about this was watching my sister sign way better than I ever could. She is actually my hero. As I was watching her I have come to realize that she accepted my deafness way before I accepted my own deafness. Let me explain..
I have been deaf since I was born, there is no known cause to it except to say that is is nerve damage from birth. However, we did not know I was deaf until I was about to turn three when it became clear I was lagging a bit behind with my speech and self-awareness. Yay. It was now time to look at some hearing aids.
One of my first (and quite possibly my favorite) hearing aids I ever got were blue with sparkly red molds. Kind of fabulous..I know. I don’t think I could ever pull those off today, but nonetheless they are still fabulous.
Now, wearing hearing aids does not “fix” hearing. It is a way to “aid” hearing. Let me put it to you like this.. Being deaf does not just make everything quieter, it can distort sound sometimes shifting vowel and consonant sounds in the ear. You can be as clear as you can be and I will most likely still not be able to tell what you say, unless I take contextual clues from the conversation and then I will pick up where we are. Hearing aids only act as miniature microphones, they just make the sound louder instead of making the sound clearer.
My deafness is also focus based. There will be some days that I can hear better than on other days. If you have conversations with me daily then this will make sense to you. And it is all because there are some days I am just exhausted and I cannot function to my utmost potential.
So yeah, being deaf has been an integral part of my life and something that has impacted me more than sometimes I let on. In fact, in my years growing up through elementary school I was pulled out of classes from time to time to work on my speech because I was so far behind. And in my classwork I got to be pretty skilled at faking everything. Until finally..it all caught up to me in 5th-8th grade. Those years were rough, I was quite honestly not much of an intellect. I had spent so much of my time faking it in classes because I was embarrassed so I did not seek the help I truly needed. It was common for me to have some lower grades during that time and it did not help my confidence.
But! Something that started to shape my work in school was starting to take shape and take my attention away from my deafness. Orchestra. Yes, I was that nerd. I started to play the Viola (actually when I was about 4 or 5 I played Suzuki Violin until I moved to College Station) and then slowly transitioned to play String Bass in 8th grade which I continued until I graduated high school. (I was not that great, 5 years straight of JV until my senior year I made Varsity, Woot Woot)
My confidence in my own deafness still had yet to form. I tried the signing events for LTC with my church but I did not keep it up. I was frustrated with it. No one my age was doing it. I was alone in doing it. Why keep it up?
I joined choir and theatre in high school, at this point I was starting to improve my academic standing and I was making friends at school for the first time. It was awesome!
Theatre had its challenges but it made me improve my speech and it made me a more mindful and self aware person. Honestly, I do not know where I would be today without theatre and my love for it. I think it was because of theatre that I was able to function as well as I did after getting some new hearing aids.
When I got new hearing aids, it had been close to eight years since my last pair. Quite a long time.. Technology, especially hearing aid technology, had improved exponentially since my last pair, which is why I almost had an anxiety attack when I put my new ones in. Once putting the new ones in the voices I had grown up with (my mom, dad, siblings, teachers, friends), their voices were suddenly not the voices I recognized. Technology had found a way to clear up some of the sound instead of having the distant hum of a microphone. It was not perfect (and it never will be). But everything I had grown up hearing, was different. Theatre helped me grow into that and adjust to newer things.
So, when did you actually feel like you could accept your deafness?
Summer 2017. It was theatre. I worked at GLOW Lyric Theatre in South Carolina in the musical Hair, one of, if not my favorite show of all time. In this show I was asked if I would be comfortable using ASL for my character, Woof.
Whoa. Uhhhhh. I don’t know any..except a few house signs.. I guess it is time to learn. Because of this, I was able to dive into a culture I had ignored for most of my life up to this point. Thanks to one of my dear family friends, Sherri Roberts, who is fluent in sign, she helped me for that summer in learning what it means to be deaf.
Since that summer I have slowly learned what it means to be deaf, taking ASL classes, and integrating deafness into my life every single day.
I still struggle every single day to be “deaf,” living at ACU can add to that challenge as I am not exposed to the culture all that often. However, the ASL courses at ACU has allowed me a chance to keep up with it. To an extent…
ACU has yet to consider ASL a language on campus, meaning that taking an ASL course will not benefit those who take the class even though it will still count as hours they pay to ACU. I was not aware of this completely until this semester as I am now getting closer to graduating, and I am personally been hurt by this. It almost indirectly wants me to shield my deafness at times. I wrote a letter to an administrator of ACU in regards to this:
But there are still those on campus who make me want to stand in pride of my deafness. Cassie Knutson, who is a professor that teaches the ASL courses on campus. The ACU Theatre Department who have celebrated me when I bring my deafness to my craft, in fact Adam Hester was key in allowing me to play Daddy Murphy in Bright Star as a deaf man.
And there are even circumstances off campus that I have been a part of that celebrate my deafness, in Slovenia when I taught an ASL workshop at a Fusion Camp. It was here that I had the chance to teach as a deaf person and is also where I am hoping to be this summer. (I am still seeking support for the summer, check the link here)
Accepting my deafness is still a challenge every day. But it is something that I try to do. I fail at it sometimes, but sometimes I do a good job at it. Heroes like my sister are those that encourage me to not give up but say “yes, and” to my circumstances. For I am of more value than many sparrows.
And with that, I will take that Journey Onward.
Watch ASL Theatre in action. Password: JrSpring18