I was at a conference, and was asked about my hearing. "Did you lose it all at once, or gradually?"
Neither. I lost about half of my hearing all at once, when I was maybe eighteen months old.
Then half of the remaining half, or all of the hearing in my left ear, during a catastrophic illness back in the nineties.
I was explaining how that involved a strep infection, and my new friend said, "two decades ago, I lost a newborn to strep."
That brought a halt to the conversation. Feeling for her, my eyes filled with tears, then hers did, then we just openly wept with our arms round each other's shoulders, as passersby milled around us.
I told her about Benjamin.
Beloved had a couple of very late-term miscarriages in about 1983, when we lived in an area that had been sprayed by the Forest Service with 2,4,5-T herbicide, and later 2,4-D (an ingredient of the famous Agent Orange), the spray schedules of which was later shown to exactly correlate with steep increases in miscarriages and chromosomal damage among farm families and their livestock in our valley.
There was, as had happened to others up and down the valley, a completely unexpected labor.
We lived seventy miles from the nearest hospital, around many hairpin curves between steep mountain walls, and when we got there, Benjamin, who would have been a little too young to have been a viable preemie anyway, had already died. We took it hard -- but, the hospital being a small-town one in logging and commercial fishing country, had more relaxed rules about these things than the big-city hospitals do, and allowed us to take him home with us in the morning --
-- which helped a lot, actually.
I walked a very exhausted Beloved into the house, the one that we had built with our own hands, and put her to bed, and then brought in the little kidney-shaped plastic dish, with its green towel folded over the tiny, and very still, pink form. We uncovered Benjamin to his waist and sat weeping, as he lay between us on the comforter.
He had all his fingers and toes, and his boy parts, and his eyes were closed.
I covered him again and went out and buried him by the side of the front steps, near the little apple tree, and went to bed, as the sun rose and the mountain birds set up their nesting songs all round.
One doesn't think about these things so much, and then someone says something, and -- boom -- there it all is again, and hurts about as much as it did the first time.
And this morning Beloved and I talked about this, and we both think -- it helps to understand a hurt or a loss if you have had that same hurt or loss, or a close analogue. So that the best nurses, sometimes, are people who have been very sick (and recovered!), and counselors who have been through a loss may make the best bereavement counselors, and teachers who struggled with math are sometimes the right people to teach remedial math, and so on.
Last Son, who was conceived not long after we lost Benjamin, did make it into the world, but it seems likely that the contamination issues were still present. He had six serious birth defects, two of them life-threatening, and has to contend with Asperger's syndrome as well. He handles his circumstances with immense grace and dignity, and does not concern himself with the might-have-been.
"I am who I am," he says. "I'm not less than someone else, just all of me. How is that different for anybody?"
He volunteers at a commercial-scale nonprofit food-bank garden, and his supervisor had this to say about him in a recent recommendation:
A strong team player, [he] works well in both large and small groups. He is able to remain relaxed and composed, lending a sense of stability and calm to situations of high intensity and commotion. He is at ease with the huge diversity of volunteers who come to the Garden. Having incredibly strong interpersonal skills, he is comfortable working with everyone from preschool and elementary aged children, to special needs adults, high school and college aged students and retirees. He treats everyone with the utmost compassion and respect.She notes particularly his rapport with those with "special needs." Many have acquired a sense of shame from the way others see or treat them -- as being something "less than" others. He teaches, by example, that there is no need to accept that burden. You want to handle a shovel? Here's how. These are weeds. Those aren't. The lettuces and fruit trees have their own clock, and all of us, however "slow," that wish to have a hand in this work will find that the garden has time for us.
Having a quiet young man around who is about the garden and not about limitations is a real help.
... that's nice to know. I won't pretend raising him was easy, though.
I'm glad I could relate to my friend's sorrow. One may wish that one hadn't had to acquire the qualifications through like pain, but there it is. Life is to be lived, and death is a part of it, and if corporate greed hadn't been a factor, perhaps something else might have. Being born with Aspergers sometimes builds character, just as lifelong deafness does. Another friend once said, "I'm not the Blind, I'm a person who experiences the world in specific ways, and sight doesn't happen to be one of them." It's nice when circumstances can be played as strengths.
After the conference, a member of my organization checked on me. "Were you okay in there?"
In a manner of speaking.