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Inner Sound, Inner Sight

Inner Sound, Inner Sight

If you do a simple Internet search of the terms "dark and silent" or "a world without sight or sound," you'll find many results about deaf-blindness. The combination of deafness and blindness is often referred to as being in a world of darkness and silence. But there is absolutely nothing dark or silent about deaf-blindness. If you have ever spent a few days in complete silence, or closed your eyes even for a moment, you will find that you hear sounds and see things that aren't there. You may even be initially folded, thinking what you're hearing or seeing is real. But if you try to confirm with another person, you will soon realize that those sounds are all in your head. That is deafness and blindness. If you can't see or hear your environment, your brain fills in the gaps for you. I hear phones ringing; I see people out of the corner of my eye; I hear people call my name; I see colors flashing in my field of vision. But based on my medical vision and hearing loss, I know those sounds can't be real. They're out of the range of my sight and hearing. All I can see is light. I all I can hear is very loud sounds near to me. I'm as close as you can get to totally deaf and blind without being totally deaf and blind. I'm one step away from "total" in both cases. In fact most doctors would consider me total because I'm so close to it anyway. Apart from knowing when the light is on, I can see nothing. I feel vibrations before I hear the sound, and sometimes my brain converts vibrations I feel into sounds, so it's hard sometimes to know if I heard something or felt it and think I heard it. Yes, I can hear a train passing me by, but I feel its weight under my feet and I feel the vibrations from the sound before I hear them.

After your vision and hearing is gone for long enough, your brain sort of translates "vision" and "hearing" to your hands and body. I use the terms "vision" and "hearing" loosely here. I'm not talking about the image falling on your retina or the sound waves reaching your eardrums, but rather, the images and sounds your brain construct from your fingertips and body. I feel the braille characters of this essay I'm writing under my fingertips and "see" them in my head. I feel the music playing ever so slightly in the table when I rest my hand on it. If the music is loud enough, I feel it resonating in my ribcage, in my hair, and even in the area my ears. Though my ears themselves don't work, the shape and structure of the ears evolved to be conducive to vibrations so I can feel the sounds resonating in my skull and the cartilage in my ears, even though I don't hear them. Sometimes I can even feel the change in air pressure if a sound is loud and booming.

The world of deaf-blindness is far from a dead one. The world is constantly full of vibrations and smells and changes in temperature and air pressure. Many people seem to believe that without ears and eyes, the world becomes unmoving and still, but this couldn't be farther from the truth. The world is very much alive. And that's not even considering all the non-physical aspects to life such as relationships, fortunes and misfortunes, and the other non-material aspects of life. The world around me is very much alive. In fact I am as easily startled by a powerful vibration as I used to be by a loud sound. A strong smell can be as distracting as a flashing light in one's peripheral vision.

People's hands take on personalities. Just like a man may have a sharp-looking face, a man can also have sharp and pointed hands. Someone with a stiff facial expression carries that stiffness in their hands as well. A soft and gentle person has hands that are soft and gentle too. To communicate, I use sign language. Rather than "listening" with my eyes as the sighted deaf do, I "listen" by putting my hands lightly over the speaker's hands. Just as a woman's words can be articulate in speech, s to can someone's hands. They form the hand shapes clearly and distinctly. Just as a drunk person mumbles in speech; a drunk signer mumbles through their hands as well. Some people have a "loud voice"--their hands flying in the air taking up a large space while others are "soft-spoken"--signing in a small space and only changing their hand shapes as minimally as possible. Since I have to track people's hands, I prefer whisperers to shouters. (My shoulders get quite sore if I have to follow someone who signs big.) And just as you might remember the boom of your former teacher's voice or the high pitched voice of your sister, I recognize the different styles of people's signing. Likewise, the same person can speak gently into my hands by making their signs tender and slow. Someone can also yell into my hand by practically slapping my hand around and signing violently.

Just as some people wear bright colors and others prefer earthy colors, some people wear strong perfumes or use powerfully scented lotions or soaps, while others have a more subtle scent to them or have a natural musk to them. Some people choose scents that blend well with their body scent while others choose ones that clash, just as some people dress tastefully for their body shape while others wear whatever's in style without regards to how it appears on their particular body type.

The world of deaf-blindness if far from the barren image may people seem to have of it. It's a different world but it is nevertheless a world. I see through my hands and I hear through my body. My world is far from dark and silent. It is a world of inner sound and inner sight.