This I Believe

Elysa - West Hartford, Connecticut
Entered on November 15, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: disability

I believe in the power of silence. The power of silence to connect me to the details of my life by snaking between the words and the clatter, outlining gestures that tell their own story. And the power of silence to exile and disable me.

My silence is real. I have had a progressive hearing loss since age four, wearing hearing aids that move me between the hearing and non-hearing worlds. At nearly forty, my loss straddles the divide between severe and profound.

As a kid, I often turned off my aids as my parents reprimanded me in an act of early defiance. But this act also accentuated their expressions that were more devastating then their words. Over time, silence would become my guide to listening and building relationships. The curve of a mouth, the lift of a brow and eye movements became unconscious signals that I learned to trust. As a teenager, I often retreated to the heaviness and isolation of silence. It was my muse for writing morbid adolescent angst poetry. It amplified my voice and provided a refuge to quiet my fears. In college and graduate school, silence focused me as I studied. Silence became a power I owned and wielded at my whim.

But I have learned that the power of silence is not always mine to harness.

In my senior year of college, I slept in silence as a man crashed opened a window and entered my apartment. I slept in silence as he creaked across the floor of my bedroom and knelt by my bedside. And I slept in silence as my roommate ran from across the apartment screaming until he bolted down the stair. From that day, I understood that the power of silence could be used against me, casting me vulnerable and weak.

As a working mom of three, I am grateful for the power of silence to anchor me in the midst of chaos and drown my distractions. The power of silence to tune me into my toddler’s fat, dimpled fingers as she screams with red-faced abandon on the kitchen floor. Its power to shelter me in my own thoughts.

But sometimes silence makes me scream in frustration as my hearing aid battery expires in the midst of a work meeting. When my daughter whispers special secrets I cannot hear. Other times silence makes me yearn for the preciseness of words, the warning of honking cars and the comforting crash of my children echoing off the walls of our old house. I live in this strange netherland between ability and disability, between connection and isolation. Silence has the power to change who I am, the perception of who I am, and what I can do.

I believe in the power of silence. It is my gift and my burden.