I was reading a news item online today, about a 40-year old woman who has been deaf since birth – due to a condition called Usher’s Syndrome that causes deafness and progressive loss of vision – and who had recently undergone surgery to have cochlear implants. The moment the implants were “turned on” and she could hear for the first time was filmed, and is now online – I watched every moment. An audiology specialist was with her, to monitor her and to test the success of the implants. How it wrenched my heart to see the woman break down as she heard a sound for the first time in her life. In the background you could hear her mother, herself overwhelmed with joy, encouraging her - as she must have done from the time she was a baby, when faced with the task of raising a child and showing her the world without her voice being heard. And not for the first time, I began a mental inventory of all the things I take for granted. The gift of hearing, for a start.
I remember some years ago writing on this blog, about the sounds I love. I listed coyotes in the hills behind my home, their yip-yipping in the dead of night, and the dawn chorus in my native England. There’s music that can reduce me to tears. I love hearing my mother’s voice on my voicemail. I remember, years ago, saying to a friend who had lost both parents, that my mother had left a message for me. “Lucky you,” he said. Yes lucky me.
I live not far from a center where guide dogs are trained, and sometimes when I’m driving through town and see the handlers out training young Labrador pups, it just takes my breath away – the determination you see on the dogs’ faces as they walk along, all paws and a puppy waddle while they learn to stop at this command or that touch. And then there are the days you see them with their new owners, getting to know each other, placing trust in each other. The gift of sight – there’s something to be grateful for. I remember when I was a child having that first eye operation, waking up with my eyes bandaged and thinking I was blind. Let’s never take color for granted, or beauty, or even the ugly things in the world we’d rather not see – how can we ever even try to make things better if we cannot see?
And I remember another time when I was feeling a bit sorry for myself over something that, looking back, was not inconsequential, but not the worst that could have happened in life. I was sitting in a coffee shop when a middle-aged couple came in with their adult son, probably in his twenties. He was profoundly challenged with some sort of neurological condition, but still they had left their home and made the considerable effort to bring him out into the world. What love they had for that young man. It was another opportunity to remember how easy it can be to walk in our own shoes when we don’t have to struggle to put them on.
I remember reading something years ago – in fact, now I think of it, I was at college. And of course I was broke, because that’s how it is when you’re a student (well, it was when I was a student!). It was this: “Every time you think of all the things you want but don’t have, think again of all the things you don’t want that you don’t have.” And let me tell you, that list of don’t wants was way longer than the list of things I would have liked.
I think it does us good to count our blessings. To stop and listen to the birds singing, the coyotes calling to the moon, or to cherish the voices of those you love (even when what they’re saying is driving you nuts). I don’t think I will ever forget the picture of that woman in the video clip, for the first time in her forty years hearing her mother’s voice.