Perhaps nothing else in my life has provided such an opportunity for developing maturity in me than the experience of my partial hearing loss – my deafness in my left ear. Though my hearing loss is not a complete deafness, I am “half deaf”, as I tell people. I have learned to simply live with this truth, and through it, I have come to understand much about suffering. Perhaps more importantly, I’ve learned what it means to grow from suffering. Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with a challenge that has cultivated important social and emotional growth in me.
Much like the water-borne situation of George Bailey in the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life, I developed a bad ear infection at a young age. Like other kids with swimming-related ear infections, I wore tubes in my ears; I received plenty of attention from my parents, doctors, and specialists. News struck my family that I had the chance of losing hearing, but as it turned out, avoiding complicated surgeries proved to be the wrong choice in saving it. My left ear would from then on have but a hearing level of 15%.
During my teen years, though I’d gotten used to living with my hearing situation well before then, I became more and more conscious of the loss. Being half deaf in middle and high school was an enormous source of discomfort and anxiety while I learned how to relate to my peers. I recall glimpses of cafeteria lunch tables, with kids and trays of French fries, and I was so nervous about finding a seat toward the left (the “good side”) of the kids that I wanted to befriend. I wanted so desperately to communicate. Having to think strategically, I fought an emotional battle in frantically attempting to hear everyone – and in a way that they wouldn’t suspect I was “weird”. (I was also embarrassed of being thought of as the “half-deaf kid”, despite just how true it was.) Often I sat quietly and nervously in the cafeteria, struggling to hear everyone in the conversation. For my hearing and for other home-related reasons, I acted out by cracking inappropriate jokes to gain the attention that I felt I needed, but this made things much worse for me. These were truly tough times for a teenager!
Today, this struggle persists but in a much less selfish and debilitating way. I am now a prospective student of Mental Health Counseling, and my moments of social anxiety have become useful memories – rich examples in emotionality – with truths I can use to better understand psychological concepts. These social experiences have provided me with a deeply poignant and personal knowledge that is analogous to narratives of mental illness, personal suffering, and human brokenness. I can say confidently that I know what significant pangs of awkwardness, or frustration, or anxiety (things I read about) feel like. I’m becoming more and more grateful that God has inclined my mind and heart towards understanding the real, diverse, and sometimes intense struggles that all of us face.
In addition, and regarding my professional interests, being handicapped in this small way has paradoxically sharpened my listening skills! I have noticed that I can pay close attention to the verbal and non-verbal communication of others, and this skill-set has been developing from continual efforts to hone in on the words of my peers. As I’d engage in conversations at the lunch tables, for instance, I had to be quite selective as to which speakers, and to which times, would provide me with the most essential words of the conversation. If the speaker is on my left side, I still have to hold on to every word ever so closely as not to miss key details. In this way, God is continuing to sharpen my gift of listening!
Throughout my life, especially more recently, I have met more and more people like myself who have lost hearing in one ear (sometimes both), and I am comforted to know that I am not the only one with a struggle like this. I share my pains with others. Lastly, I am content in knowing that God has used both my physical handicap as well as my emotional and social adversity to mold me into one of His vessels for righteousness. I continue to find strength and encouragement in the optimistic, hopeful outcomes seen in the losses of others and of myself. I relish in knowing the Lord is working these and all things together for His good ¬– including that I may one day help another person see the beauty, truth, and goodness that can emerge from his or her unique brokenness.