There’s an anonymous yet reassuring companionship in knowing I’m here working through my limits, and just a few feet away is someone else doing exactly the same thing. There is no competition, nor argument. Just the simple fact that I can only deal with what’s on my mat.
As we go through the poses, I notice the instructor looking at me. I’ve dropped so deeply into the bliss of the practice that I feel profoundly still. I open my eyes to see her staring, she nods gently as if to say, yes you’re there. There are no epiphanies or plans. No sadness. Just a quiet acceptance of everything the way it is.
But I of course, don't really remind him that the silence cast upon him physically is a silence I live with internally. He had once said it was the worse impairment for robbing one of the ability to communicate and socialize. I’m sure it doesn’t even compare and it would be unfair to try, but even while I hear, I socialize less than he does tending to save my conversations (unfortunately for him) for the few rather than the many.
Ironically, I sometimes feel impaired around people. Writing tends to mandate it’s own solitude. You’re constantly absorbing life into ideas which never really resolve in single conversations, lost in your own world where mysteriously random things are sparked and woven together or where situations you’re contemplating forge a war in your head.
You’re acutely aware that were you to attempt explanation, most people might think you’re a little mad or as the Tin Man accuses me of, Vague. With a capital V. Because nothing is ever quite “finished”, not even when you get to the page. There is no immediacy to conclusion, but a constant turning over of facets to feed the words you hope will eventually present themselves. You mine the nuances.
Your goal is to share the uncertainty with an audience largely unfamiliar to you - often it’s like a cry in the dark. You wait for the echoes to come back, so you understand you’re not alone or are satisfied that someone else knows they aren’t either. It’s the same kind of companionship the sky provides, broad, looping over great distances, but constant.
Then the moment you’re connected to someone who gets behind the pen to the hand that wields it, there are fizzy spurts of thoughts said out loud, or you simply can’t help yourself when the chemistry encourages it. You’re just a person. You draw from them, they or the situation inspire you. What’s your excuse then? I write?
Unlike conversation, whether spoken or signed, once you’re done, your writing is a finished product separate from you, available for beholding and perusal at leisure. While you on the other hand, are experienced as a jumble of abstract thoughts and musings, which for the most part seem to have no immediately useful bearing on regular life. Except of course, for talking too much and possibly wasting time.
At first, I didn’t quite know how to take this. Was this a “sit there, shut up and look pretty” edict? Was this a preference for someone with the same impairment who could somehow laser beam their thoughts via Morse code? I began to feel a little shy for talking, the same way one does when you take the last cookie, or show a bit more enthusiasm than you ought to. And for someone who lives a thoughtful and articulated life, it had cut rather closely to the bone.
I could no more prevent my mind or its expression than I could change the color of my eyes. It was, and is after all, the way I’m connected to the world for all my own solitude. It’s easy for me to encourage a person’s nature by adjusting my language to theirs, to diffuse tension with humor and word play, in fact with a lively wit. I weave entire bridges with it. On a good day, I could build you a castle.
I decided to selectively ignore the Tin Man’s humorous complaining. After all, much of the talking transpired over events he’d spurred, and the natural inclination to have my thoughts hurtling forwards to reach him.
And as he wearily explained, his bionic ear could only cope with so much. He wasn’t being mean about it but just trying to tell me how to work with it. Fair enough. I’d read somewhere that deaf culture was collectivist, where personal information was gladly shared and exchanged.
This is very much unlike the hearing where privacy and individualism is more the norm, where we layer our points with nuance, soften blows and take circuitous routes with our words. We are text-heavy. Most hearing-impaired can be jarringly direct, even sign language omits articles. As he describes it, “it’s like really bad English if you write it out”.
I remember the jolt of surprise I had when I first learned of how many events and groups there were for the deaf, everything from associations to sports to bars. Due more to my ignorance than anything. I was impressed to find they were no less talkative than the hearing, though “talk” as such involved much less sound and noise. If communication could be compromised due to impairment and the threat of isolation abounds, it made sense for the culture to provide an offset. A protection if you will from the wall of physical silence.
It is a distinguishing and deeper commonality beyond interest and activity. A unification over a shared and more importantly, very obvious impairment that requires little explanation.
I wonder if the Tin Man realizes that beyond the deep and narrow circle of friends I hold here and the world over, no such place exists for me. Being a foreign non-drinking, non-shallow person born of several cultures (East vs. West), religions (Taoist vs. Catholic) and ethnicities (Oriental vs. Latin) of such polar natures doesn’t make it impossible of course, but it does mean I can offer little by way of the sameness most Americans typically rely on.
Alma mater? Overseas. Family? Overseas. Readers? Mostly overseas. Friends? Half here, half overseas. Number of revolutions survived? One. Number of coup d’etats experienced? Approximately ten. Most common question after I say this? What the hell is a coup d’ etat?
Usually those are not always easy things. Often, these are out of the way and hidden, much the same as diamonds, tucked into the dark corners of the heart. I see my loved ones beyond the capable striding of their daytime selves, I see the profundity of their presence in this world but love them just as equally for their mundane couch lounging on any slow evening of a Wednesday.
He would, I’m sure, chime in to say I could change that any time and choose to be more social. The Tin Man is nothing if not imbued with a can-do spirit. He pushes me. Hard.
On our own friendship, I’d been driven to ask him why he wanted mine, since he seemed so flush with too many other friends with the Magic Common as it is. “Because,” he stubbornly replied, “I want it. You’re consistent. And you’re special.”
I nod. I too could understand the value of seeing the same bright star at night, even if its light was not precisely like mine.
His impairment is challenging in ways not easy for the hearing to comprehend, still it also offers him the gift of that common bond with others like him. Mine is rarely seen save for here, and it is, unfortunately not easily quantified in terms of impact. Nor something I can offer ready solutions to or a simple language for. Maybe that's why I'm a little vague. It is riddled with mistakes I’ve made, and wrong turns I’ve taken. It has a bit of shame. I acquired it, knocking about in the world and loving the wrong people the very right way. You know, consistently.
It’s a fragility I draw strength from because it has taught me compassion beyond the obvious. After all, anyone who meets me would never think me so tender. But I’ve also had to make the choice to share it with people who matter and to risk judgment for it. You must expose yourself to go from repair to building.
Much of my traipsing about as FA on this blog had sat on veins of brokenness, and last year’s silence brought this persona to question. Too harsh in some senses, too tender in others. When does the past become just that, the past? Do I leave femmeruthless behind? Where do fallen angels go to fly?
I think of this immersed in the mute blanket of yoga, where watchfulness is beyond the visual. You fulfill a pose not because you hear nor see it. Even sheer athleticism won’t get you there. In yoga, you can only reach it because you feel and move your way through it. It is the difference between contemplation and worry. It is action in stillness. Strength in vulnerability.
But it is also letting go of everything.