Recognizing the quiet heroes | Fit & Healthy
By BRYAN WELCH
Mercer Island Reporter Columnist
October 5, 2010 · Updated 10:57 AM
You’re 5 years old. Something is wrong. The other kids race by at a hundred miles an hour. You stare quizzically at your parents as they speak, the sounds are garbled, and their expectant stares do nothing to unravel the mystery. Your younger sister speaks easily and often, and you see the smiles and laughter on faces all around. You catch a few words now and then. Dumb. Slow. Mentally retarded. Your discomfort only increases in school as you try desperately to pick up strands of dialogue while the teacher faces you. If she turns her back, the world goes black again. Other kids have noticed your difficulties, and you sense the looks and conversations about you, with the obvious laughter at the punch line you’ve become.
Your parents are at a loss and believe the diagnosis of the “experts.” You’ll never keep up; you’re just not right. You spend hours with your dad as he tries to shape your mouth as you utter vowel after vowel. Your speech improves, but both parents smoke and often times your ears and lungs are congested and it feels as if contorting your mouth into any shape is pointless. You begin to read lips, and understand more acutely that something is wrong. You adapt enough to survive and are passed on through second, third and fourth grades. Your dad dies when you are 10 years old, and there is no way forward.
Finally, in fifth grade, Mrs. Hammond takes notice and tells your parents that you are not dumb or slow, or any of the other huge labels that have been hung around your neck for years. You can’t hear. You read lips, you strain to catch different frequencies, you cheat if you have to, but you simply miss too much to participate.
Hearing tests will diagnose a 60 percent loss in normal hearing level, presumably a birth defect, though I hesitate to use that word in any capacity as the connotation can alter not only perceptions but outcomes. After receiving hearing aids, you can finally hear most of what is going on. Hope blossoms, only to be crushed under the weight of a smalltown American upbringing. Friendships have already been formed, roles already assigned, and you’re the oddball. Sixth, seventh and eighth grades are still misery, but you’ve discovered a weapon. You can act out. Disobey. Rebel. Fight back and ignore and show your anger. Cheat openly and dare anyone to kick you out. The day you graduate from high school, you are already pregnant. You get married and divorced within 10 months. You move out, move back in, and finally your family picks up and moves to Seattle when you are 21 years old. Your son is 3, and you need to work, you go to trade school and become a welder.
Throughout all the trials and traumas, all the uphill battles and facing a sea of doubters, you’ve always had a release. It’s a thread of sanity found in the weight room. A solitary exploration of self, a way to quiet the demons and release some of that energy. It’s a time to lift and struggle and conquer something that has a definitive boundary. It’s not elusive or mean. It doesn’t pass judgment or render any decision against you. You can simply lift the weight or you can’t. You can push it 15 times or you can’t. It will wait quietly for you, but offer no criticism or praise. The steel needed to get up every morning and get on with it is forming with every single repetition.
This story has a happy ending. Today, Holly Gould is a vibrant, attractive, sweet, shy, accomplished dental hygienist with a 19-year-old son who hopes to attend the University of Washington next year. She has recently married, enjoys skiing, golf and ice skating, and continues to lift weights. Although technology has greatly improved hearing devices, at work the various pitches and sounds emitted by the dental drills render them useless. Years of lip reading and studying human movements and facial expression allow her to instantly identify the needs of her patients and glide through a full day’s work. Thanks to countless hours of verbal cueing with her dad, her speech is perfect.
We live in a time when self-aggrandizement is common, where we want to share our accomplishments instantly with friends and family. We tweet our status at the grocery store or post a notice on Facebook with our whereabouts at the mall. Celebrate your accomplishments, sure. Celebrate life, definitely.
I’m relieved that there are quiet heroes alive and well out there — people who have overcome many things and don’t feel the need to tell the world. They adapt, they overcome and they inspire. Challenge yourself to become a better person, and forget the naysayers. Achieve because you want to, and use the tools at your disposal to their utmost. Celebrate the effort, not the outcome, and ultimately take a moment to truly appreciate the gift of life.Contact Mercer Island Reporter Columnist Bryan Welch at email@example.com.