Joyful, Unexpected Moments of Understanding

Gael Hannan
November 21, 2023

It’s all in the small stuff. The ordinary small stuff that, just when you think nothing will surprise or thrill you again when connected to the words hearing loss, something unexpected happens.

Perhaps a moment when accessibility is provided when you didn’t anticipate it. Or when, for whatever reason, sound becomes clearer, a conversation becomes easier. Another human suddenly, without being prompted, remembers to remove a ball hat or faces you squarely before starting to speak.

Meaningful events in ordinary, appreciated moments.

One of these flashes happened to me this week when I attended a hockey game with my family in San Jose, CA. Me – a hockey non-fan married into a hockey-mad family – who for over 30 years has failed to grasp anything beyond the basics of the game. Also, arenas are loud, LOUD. But on the jumbotron at the hockey arena – captioning appeared with the important information! Not only just who scored a goal, but other stuff that I simply would not have heard. I was as excited as a non-lover of hockey can get.

My friend Myrtle Barrett has always been an inspiration for me on my hearing journey and in my writings on hearing loss. Myrtle became deaf as young woman, and she went for decades without assistive technology. Her empathetic and service-oriented lifeview made her a successful social worker and a dynamic advocate for people with hearing loss. In her early 60s, she dragged her heels to get a cochlear implant and I was grateful to hear about and see firsthand some of the dramatic moments in her new life of hearing such as this:

Shortly after my cochlear implant was switched on, I went for a walk with my nephew. I was mesmerized by the sound of gravel beneath my  feet I may have heard the scrunching sounds long ago before I went deaf, but I’d lost the memory of it. But now, I was screaming “Oh my dear God, what’s that sound!” as I ground my feet this way and that. I was so excited that my nephew walked away, leaving me screaming. He told his dad I was acting like a nut case. And I felt like one, too; I was a happy, crazy woman.

At a male choir performance during a hearing loss conference, I sat next to Myrtle. The male chorus started Leonard Cohen’s powerful Hallelujah, and the hair rose on my arms as I watched her hear music for the first time in thirty years. “My heart is beating so fast,” Myrtle said. “It’s taking everything I’ve got not to get hysterical.” (Understandable, given her recent public freak-out over mere gravel.)

A few years ago, during the Christmas season, I was doing a presentation in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. One of the event organizers, also a recent CI recipient, mentioned that one of the saddest aspects of her deafness was no longer being able to enjoy Christmas music. Somehow, she had misssed the tutorial on connecting, and before you could say deck the halls, we plugged her CI system into an iPod, and we got teary (there are many types of tears in hearing loss) as we watched Silent Night fill her head.

The unexpected communication moments aren’t all this dramatic and most aren’t that newsworthy to other people. But to us, they are exquisite moments of unexpected pleasure. When Madison, our 7-year-old granddaughter, came close to me and clearly enunciated, Gigi, would you like to play a game of crib, it was one of those ‘small-stuff’ moments that rocked my world.



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