Day by Day
Joy comes from hearing other people’s stories
By LIZ THOMPSON
November 14, 2016
This Week News
Every day I’m reminded there are miracles.
When I put my cochlear implant voice processors on my ears, sounds of life flood my brain — voices or music on the radio, water running, the coffee pot dripping and my husband talking to me or our dog — and I smile.
All these sounds were happening, even when I couldn’t hear them. They went on much like people’s lives, even though I don’t know them.
One important fact I learned as a reporter years ago is that everyone has a story with many chapters. The stories range the full spectrum, from celebration to sorrow.
Before my first implant, in 2002, I was a deaf reporter relying on several things: one ear that had some hearing with a hearing aid, my ability to lip-read, pen and paper, computers and people’s patience.
I let people know I wanted to hear their story and they all complied, doing whatever was necessary to get the story right.
My favorite interviews were when friends and family gathered to remember a loved one. I looked at photos, old newspaper clippings, scrapbooks and more. I heard and saw laughter and tears while writing a story of a legacy worth remembering. Legacies born of hard work, loving their families and respecting life.
Once I had my first implant and the ability to understand speech made conversations possible, I treasured interviewing others even more. The strain was gone for both parties, and I developed a deeper interviewing style that was a joy for me.
The local politicians might not have liked that I could understand, but I did. News also ran the full spectrum, and 15 years ago, I reported the facts — both sides, unbiased and without commentary.
Especially since my second implant in the other ear, I love engaging in conversations with others. When I ask, “How are you?” I really want to know and wait for an answer.
Last month, we were camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. One day, we stopped at a picnic grounds by a creek for a snack. A woman was reading a book, and I asked what she was reading.
“A book by Lisa Wingate,” she said. “I love her writing!”
“I’ve read all her books and am one of her early readers,” I replied.
She saw my cane, I think, and came over to our table. We chatted for a bit and she sat down. She was Junella from Indiana, named for relatives June and Ella. I told her Ella is the name of the protagonist in my fiction book I’d recently finished, and she smiled.
I felt I’d known her for more than the moments we talked about books and life in general. All too soon, we had to be on our way. I left her my card and told her I’d love it if she emailed me.
This conversation would have been impossible prior to 2002, unless she knew sign language, and I was never proficient in that.
Throughout our camping trip, we had various conversations with people from all over the U.S. We talked weather — it was much warmer than usual and very dry — and about our dogs, campers, music, children and grandchildren, trips we’d taken and even politics, which was a hot topic this year.
It thrills me to be able to catch every nuance of the conversation and hear the different accents and still understand the words.
Most of us know the tradition of Thanksgiving began as a way to show gratitude for the harvest. In an era of at least presumed plenty, we need to think of those who don’t have enough to survive well. There are many ways to help — food pantries and missions, to name a couple.
But the need might be on your street or nearby.
The list of what I am thankful for is too long to write here, but hearing and understanding again tops the rest. Each new day, I’m reminded of this blessing. I don’t take it lightly.
If you tell me your story, I will listen. Count on it.
When I start asking people questions, my husband teases me that I’m in my reporter mode. But the truth is, I’m interested and intrigued by other people’s experiences. I may not write one of your stories, but I’ll count it a blessing that I understand your words.
Local author Liz Thompson writes the Day by day column for ThisWeek News. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.