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In a World Devoid of Noise

If you’re a frequent lunch customer at the Mission Wendy’s, you would surely have seen him on occasion stepping up in line wearing his blue-gray U. S. Postal uniform, writing his order on a napkin, claiming his food tray and proceeding to a booth, always to dine alone.  A slender man, tall in stature—his name is Jeff.  He has been employed with the U. S. Postal Service for 30 years.  And, since birth, he has lived completely without hearing (the cause undetermined), existing in a world totally devoid of sound.

I became aware of his circumstance one day by accident when passing his table and deciding to offer a friendly offhand comment about the latest Jayhawk basketball victory.  He motioned to one ear and shook his head, conveying he was unable to hear.  I wrote “Go Jayhawks!” on the newspaper I was carrying, and he laughed and gave me a hearty thumbs-up.  After that we’d exchange waves when he came into Wendy’s.

Later on it occurred to me that his perspective on life might make an interesting and educational blog post.  So, I approached him one day, wrote out my suggestion, and he agreed.  I indicated I’d prepare a questionnaire beforehand and pass it on to him, then meet together and flesh out the details writing back and forth.  He enthusiastically concurred and two weeks later we sat down together at our prearranged meeting and conducted the interview.

Jeff was born in North Kansas City, Missouri, but grew up in Olathe, Kansas.  When asked about how, during childhood, other children related to his disability, he recalled that some were understanding and friendly, some teased him and others, as some people do today, just shied away; nevertheless, he learned to take the bitter with the sweet.  He married his high-school sweetheart, she also hearing impaired, and they’ve been together 35 years.  He related with a proud twinkle in his eye how they’d been blessed with two children, a boy age 24 and a girl 21.  His son is an auto dealer; his daughter is studying journalism at the University of Kansas and plans to take an educational trip to London next January.  Both were born with perfectly normal hearing.

When together, Jeff and his wife sign constantly, he explained, using ASL (American Sign Language) and he does possess lip-reading skill.  However, he professes his greatest challenge in day-to-day activities when around other people, logically so, is understanding what they’re conversing about and tracking that conversation.  At home he watches TV with captions.  He’s also an avid reader, some of his favorites being USA Today and Sports Illustrated, and he loves to surf the Internet.

I wondered whether the mail truck required any special equipment, but he shook his head no, that it didn’t.  He does, however, rely on texting on his iPhone in the event his vehicle encounters problems or something unusual pops up.  A good set of eyes and focused concentration are all he needs.

The subject of politics came up, but we didn’t dwell at length on it.  He follows the news carefully and did indicate in his opinion the country is in deep trouble at present.  (An observation shared by many, but with no consensus as to the causes.)  He did elaborate that in his view politicians are mostly talk, talk, talk with little constructive action.  As for President Trump, Jeff simply penned on his paper “Ha!  Ha!”  Well, I thought to myself, I’d have to agree that most political discourse today is just noise.

So, what are the chosen pastimes for a man unable to hear?  Jeff enumerated them almost endlessly: watching the Kansas City Chiefs play every Sunday, outdoor grilling with friends and family, waterskiing, playing pickup football and basketball, snow skiing, bike riding, on and on.  The point here is a simple and obvious one, yet one too often ignored by the world at large, and constitutes the bottom-line message Jeff would stress to that world.  Namely, “The deaf can do anything anyone else can, except hear.”  When asked what would be the most helpful thing society might do to further accommodation for the hearing impaired, he laughed and quickly wrote, “Learn how to sign.  It would make a tremendous difference.”

As we brought the interview to a close, a thought occurred to me regarding the older generation of which I’m now a part.  We’re all suffering some degree of hearing loss and it will only become more pronounced over time.  And with the baby boomers entering that category en masse, more and more people will be affected.  In view of the fact the hearing-aid industry is recalcitrantly refusing to lower costs for aids, many will endure hearing loss without any ready remedy.  It just could be those like Jeff and his wife will end up being the ones with an advantage after all, having had a whole lifetime to adjust and compensate.  Hmmmmm.  Learning to sign might not be such a bad idea!   Now, where might I enroll in a class?

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Mark Scheel
Mark Scheel grew up in east-Kansas farm country. He attended both Kansas State University and The University of Kansas, majoring in psychology and English. Prior to writing full time he served overseas with the American Red Cross in Vietnam, Thailand, West Germany and England, taught at Emporia State University and was an information specialist with the Johnson County Library in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. His stories, articles and poems have appeared in numerous magazines including The Little Balkans Review, Kansas Quarterly, The Cincinnati Poetry Review, The Kansas City Star, Heritage of Kansas, Samisdat, and Poet as well as many sites online such as Common Ground News. His literary activities have also involved membership in The Kansas Authors Club, a seat on the board of directors for Potpourri Publications Company and an editorial position with Kansas City Voices magazine. He co-authored the book Of Youth and the River: the Mississippi Adventure of Raymond Kurtz, Sr., and his collection of stories and poems, A Backward View, was awarded the 1998 J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award. His most recent book is titled The Pebble: Life, Love, Politics and Geezer Wisdom.

4 comments to In a World Devoid of Noise

  • mistermuse

    Nice post, Mark. Jeff seems to have his head on straighter than most people with ears that hear (easy for me to say, since I agree completely with his opinion of politicians and Trump!).

    BTW, for those who may think it odd that there is a Wendy’s in a Mission, no doubt you’re referring to the town of Mission, Kansas. 🙂

  • mistermuse,

    Thank you, my good sir. Quite a number of readers had a similar reaction.

    Wendy’s in a mission. Hmmmmm. Maybe I can get a short story out of that! LOL

    Mark

  • Don Frankel

    Mark,

    Think of all the BS he never had to listen to.

    There is the cochlear implant. It doesn’t work for every condition like if the auditory nerve is damaged. But before we learn sign language, deafness might become a completely treatable condition.

  • Hi Don,

    Yep, lots of noise he was able to avoid! Ha. I would assume in his case the implant wouldn’t work. If it becomes treatable, I’m sure my wife will shove her way to the head of the line–her hearing decline frustrates her endlessly.

    Thanks,

    Mark

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