Updated April 13, 2016:
I had a phone interview last night with a 2016 Olympic hopeful, David. He’s going for the long jump after six years away from the sport, and after speaking to him, all I could tell him was “You’re determination and dedication are incredible.” But the funny thing was, he said something similar to me when I apologized for having him repeat a couple names, years and phrases throughout our 30 minute conversation.
“Now that, that is incredible,” he said. “Too be able to do all you have accomplished and to keep going without such an innate and necessary ability…that is something to be proud of.”
I thanked him and told him it hadn’t been a choice. My hearing loss doesn’t offer that. If you look at my audiogram, I am borderline “profoundly deaf.” My hearing loss tip toes that fuzzy line between declaring me hard of hearing and officially deaf. If you met me in person, you’d never really know that because I am darn good at reading lips and getting by, but now, I need my hearing aids, and trust me they are powerful!
But the other reason I realized was an editor I’d had while in college, Greg Bowers. He was my sports editor while at the Columbia Missourian, and while he understood and tried to help make any situation easier with my disability, he never once let me use it an excuse to be less than what I could. He expected a lot from me after my first week there, and he never treated me differently from any of the others. In fact, at times I worried I was doing something wrong, taking Greg’s intense editing and low baritone voice as a sign of dislike. It would become clear to me a month later that it wasn’t dislike I heard in his voice but a desire to push me, to develop the writer he knew was there into the professional he knew she could become.
My hearing loss didn’t matter to Greg. In fact, I’m pretty sure he forgot I even had it. It didn’t affect my writing, my editing, my research or my fact-checking. It may have had made my interviews more difficult at times, but in the end it would also make me a stronger reporter.
When you lose your hearing, your other senses compensate. Your nose picks up on smells more distinctly, as though you were pregnant all the time. Your eyes don’t simply scan the view for something of interest but instead catalogue the subtle hues on the freshly fallen October leaves, note the swiftly changing shapes of the clouds and pick out the little details of those passing you by, whether animal or person. Touch is no longer simply a physical connection, one object touching another, but it becomes a language in of itself, a silent transferal of feelings, desires and fears.
I have 87-percent hearing loss as of today, and I can bet, based on the small difference between what I can hear now and what I could hear then, that while reporting at the Missourian, my ears had lost about 75-percent. I wrote over 30 articles that summer, ended up with national and regional reporting awards the next fall, and as of today, I’ve written 30 articles for the St. Louis Rams, over 10 pieces for the St. Louis Business Journal, have published one book, have had blogs published by the Missouri Hearing Society, work full time as a content marketer and have begun to make a name for myself in the hearing-impaired world.
David’s comment last night reminded me that my disability hadn’t actually suppressed me but had actually improved me. Without full hearing, I had been forced to rely on my other senses while reporting. My eyes not only maintained a direct connection with my source, linked from eyes to eyes, but they noticed everything. I saw every wrinkle or freckle on their face, the colors of their eyes, the brand of clothes they wore, the environment we were in and the way they twitched or turned when something was hard to say.
I could not hear, so I had to see. And my eyes saw so well, that when I would return to write the article, not only did I share a story, but I could transport my readers to the very place I’d been and present to them the very personality and soul of the story’s subject. My eyes compensated for my ears, capturing the essence of the man, woman or child before me and then allowing my brain and hands to bring all the details together into a cohesive, mental painting.
My ears caught the quotes that wrote the story, but my eyes painted the vivid descriptions that made it come alive. David was right that it is something to be proud of, to have come so far and done so well without normal hearing. But what I also realized last night was that it wasn’t just my hearing loss that had helped to push me, it was having a mentor that never allowed me to use it as an excuse.
Greg never treated me as though I couldn’t do what others in the newsroom did, in fact sometimes I think he pushed me harder.
He didn’t keep story ideas from me or exclude me from sports desk conversations. He gave me story pitches, one that would especially define the rest of my life, and he would ask questions that not only made me pause and think but also question the very truth and substance of life. He always asked me when I was writing, “How do you know that’s true?” At first I would say my source said it, but I quickly learned that isn’t enough. You have to be the one to find the truth, to confirm what your sources say with outside facts and other sources. And then after hours of research, you have to question yourself again, “Is it really true?”
It wasn’t a lack of trust in others or life that he was trying to imbue within me but the ability to think critically about everything and everyone. He was trying to teach me to not be good but to be incredible.
But of all the things Greg gave to me, taught and showed me, it was that nothing can hold you back. Nothing can stop you from doing what you want to do, what you are meant to do. He probably doesn’t realize, although I’ve told him he was right about me being a writer numerous times, but he’s the mentor I didn’t know I had, the person who showed me my hearing loss didn’t matter, shouldn’t matter and will never matter.
It doesn’t define who I am, he showed me. Use it to make you stronger, he taught me. Be who you want to be and do what you want to do, questioning life as you go so that in the end the world is what you make it. He inspired me.