Listening from the Heart

Sarah’s Speech

It is is June, 2010. The scene is an all-student assembly where faculty and proud parents join for a wonderful year-end elementary school tradition called “The Moving Up Ceremony.” Having now completed 6th grade, my then twelve-year-old daughter was chosen for the high honor of giving her class’s year-end speech. Sarah’s purpose: To share her veteran 6th-grade wisdom with underclassmen who would soon be “moving up.”

My hearing loss took a major turn just days before Sarah’s speech.  I was “effectively deaf” the doctor later said. The harsh reality of my predicament was somberly sinking in. Of course, I was proud as a Dad can be about Sarah being selected to represent her class. I savored for her performance on stage.

Then this nightmare happens.  Now I was unable to hear my daughter’s precious three minutes of fame. And it pained me to fathom that all such future special occasions would now be irrevocably tarnished. It was a cruel prospect. Scary too.

Seeing to Hear

My instinctual reaction to inaudible words was to toil to see what the other person was saying.  I quickly surmised that “lip reading” is extremely difficult to do.  In fact, at first, I thought it was impossible. After a couple of days of strained trial and error I figured out that interpreting facial expressions offered a smidgen of insight when I understood the context of the current conversation.

I also learned to stop trying to read every word (that was exhausting and fruitless); just the key words.  Then I made an important discovery about my new soundless world: That I could read lips a little by anticipating what the talker was most likely about to say.

Thus my amazing journey began as I learned to look for the many common words, phrases and expressions that people use. Every time I see that guy, he says, “Hey man, how you doing buddy?!”  Yep, look, he just said it. I can read his lips! The trick is knowing.

The Big Moment

Then it occurred to me.  Sarah wrote her own speech. Her carefully crafted dissertation was fully eight sentences long. So I memorized it beforehand and determined to follow along as she delivered it.

Then the big moment arrived.  I watched very carefully as Sarah ascended the stage. If she was nervous, I couldn’t tell. But I sure was. Then she began, “Sixth grade is a year packed with fun memories that I will never forget!” She looked like she was having fun up there. Her simple exuberance pealed glorious. I was riveted!

Sarah’s stage performance was flawless. She smiled broadly, she looked at her audience, she engaged them as she read. And she stayed right on script.  Thus I heard every precious word without a sound.  I knew precisely what Sarah was saying as I watched her say it.  It was awesome.  A Father couldn’t have been more proud.

Listening from the Heart

I later learned that the acoustics in the auditorium that day were very poor. Parents complained that they couldn’t hear the presentations through the crackly microphone.  A few times the audio blew out completely and the audience was trapped in silence.

But not me!  I heard exactly what I came to hear loud and clear. And to this very moment, Sarah’s every word resonates crystal joy within me.

On that grande day Sarah taught me what listening from the heart is all about.  It remains one of the most valuable lessons of my life.

Listen heart, listen.  Your beautiful daughter is speaking right now. Do you hear her? I do. I always do. And she still sounds wonderful!


5 replies
  1. kyle says:

    Keep it up, you won’t regret it! My advice would be to try to find a deaf club or some other Deaf folks in your area, meet with them as much as possible. In my opinion there is no better way to learn a language then to throw yourself into it! Good Luck with everything!

    • Brian Patrick Jensen says:

      I have taken two ASL beginner classes and have a personal tutor (we meet about once every two weeks). However, I find learning and retaining ASL much more difficult than I ever expected. It is such a beautiful visual language and I’m keen to embrace it; but without using it regularly, I’m afraid my efforts to will continue to bring less than stellar results. I would describe myself as quite novice with ASL in any case.


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