Saturday, August 12, 2006

A New Friend!

Steve and I have just returned home from a business trip to Nashville. We stayed at the Opryland Hotel and had a busy few days. I made arrangements to meet a new friend, Jennifer, whom I met online on one of the CI Forums that I belong to. We agreed to meet on Thursday at the Opry Mills Mall. I walked to the mall from the hotel and met her in the food court at 11:30 a.m. I recognized her immediately from her picture on her blog and she looks even better in person! She is tall, too, with a beautiful smile.

We quickly found a fairly quiet booth in the Chili’s restaurant in the back away from all the noise and hustle bustle of the mall. We hit it off right away (I knew we would from her blog and the emails that we have traded back and forth) and before we knew it it was 2:00 p.m! We found plenty to talk about and learned a lot about each other. Jennifer also has a severe/profound hearing loss, is married with five children, and is currently waiting for insurance approval to get a cochlear implant. She speaks very well for someone who can hardly hear and lip reads well, too. We talked about our hearing losses, our families, our struggles and triumphs with different issues. She is also a Christian and is involved with her church and Bible Study. As we talked and shared, I came to the realization that even though we are all different and come from different backgrounds, we are still so much alike in our hearing journeys and have the same goal – we want to hear and “be normal.” Before I got my CI, I was very vain about my deafness and would not admit that I was hard of hearing. I never liked the word, "deaf" and I still don't. But I am. I only knew a handful of deaf and hard of hearing persons because I was not part of “that world.” As a high schooler, I was too embarrassed to let anyone know that I had to go to speech therapy and would skip my sessions. Ever since I started my CI journey I have met many people who are hearing impaired just like me. We all share the same frustrations and struggles when we can’t hear and depend on others to be our “ears” for us. I never wanted anyone to see my hearing aids and would hide them with my hair. I refused go out in public with my hair up or get my hair cut short because I wanted to keep my ears covered at all times. Now people walk around with all these Bluetooth gadgets hanging from their ears, earphones, iPods, MP3 players for all the world to see and they are not even hearing impaired. With my Clearsounds neck loop or T-Link for my phone and iPod, I blend right in. In fact, I would gladly pull my CI in a wagon behind me if I had to because I love being able to hear as well as I do. I showed Jennifer some of my accessories that I use and shared with her about the AT & T relay service online that I use instead of a TTY. (I use it less now that I can talk on the phone but it is still a good backup, especially for those dreaded automated messages.) She even tried my neckloop with her telephone setting on her hearing aid. It was fun to watch her facial expressions as she heard the beeps, tones, and message as I connected her to the Time of Day on my cell phone! She did quite well and heard something about thunderstorms and that it was 2:00 p.m. in Knoxville. We walked, talked, and shopped around the mall and got a treat from Starbucks before she dropped me off at the hotel at 4 p.m. I’ve made a new friend for life and we will continue to stay in touch. When we made plans to get together, I thought she lived close to Nashville. She drove AN HOUR from her home to meet me! I told her that I felt special that she would do that and really appreciated it. Spending time today with a new friend was truly a blessing. I felt like I had known her all of my life and I know we will stay in touch. Thank you, Jen, for a delightful afternoon!

I love meeting other people who are “just like me.” Jennifer and I shared how we have “found our group” to fit in to after all these years of denial. We both belong to several hearing loss groups and are members of CI forums online. We have learned so much from other people who have hearing disabilities and love being able to help and encourage those who have the same struggles and experiences. It is very helpful to have a place to go to have questions answered and get helpful information and advice from someone else who has been there. I’ve said this before and I will say it again. The Internet is my “phone” and lifeline to the outside world and I don’t know how I managed without it. I do remember feeling very alone and isolated because I could not talk on the phone, especially when Steve traveled for weeks at a time and left me home with four young children. If I wanted to talk to someone or make a doctor’s appointment, I had to get in my car to drive there. That was not easy with four young children in tow, especially if one of them was sick or if I was burning up with fever and didn't feel good. We taught our kids how to talk on the phone to relay messages at an early age. Somehow it is just not the same to say “I love you” to your spouse through another person or child or to convey personal information.

In closing, we are all part of one body. God put us here to build each other up and support one another. (Still writing and editing. . .watch this space. . .)

P.S. Jen talks about our visit on her blog, too. Check it out here!

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