"I'm going to the Cubs' game with you tomorrow," I said, slowly, sure to enunciate each individual word. I was completely unsure whether or not my words would be received or if they would go unheard, uncomfortably wafting around in the thick air of the room until gravity prevailed, dragging my words to the ground where they would soon be stepped on, crushed, by one of the many pairs of feet in the room. There were eight of us crammed into the small room (which would soon hold all twelve of us), all splitting our attention equally between a computer screen and the man who was hooked up to it. Somehow, I found the Chicago Cubs a fitting topic to talk about. Maybe it was because the Cubs (along with food) are the favorite discussion topic of the man hooked up to the computer. Or maybe it's because I just couldn't think of anything else to say that could match the magnitude of this moment.
As a child of seventeen, I can't even fathom how long fifty years actually is. To me, ten years seems like an eternity. I can't even imagine how long fifty years must feel. Like five eternities? Yet, I was sitting in a room with a man hooked up to a computer, otherwise known as my grandfather, who hadn't heard a single sound in fifty years. That's five eternities of living in complete silence, aggravation, and solitude. He hadn't heard three of his four children speak and had never heard any of his eight grandchildren speak. He has never heard an "el" train, never used a cell phone, never been able to criticize his children or grandchildren's music taste like all fathers and grandfathers do (ie: "You call THIS crap music?!").
But today, well, today was different. Today he might be able to hear something.
A few weeks back, my grandpa had a cochlear implant. This is a complex procedure that enables an electronic "cochlea" to be placed near his ear, in which 24 electrodes substitute for the 20,000 neurons in the human ear, and pick up sounds from his surroundings, allowing him to hear. However, it requires a lot of time to learn how to hear again, something hearing people take so for granted. But for someone who has lived in silence for an extended period of time, it is difficult to discern background noise from a voice, or to identify the sound that jingling keys make, or to correctly understand speech. Our family was told that even after the cochlear processor was turned on, there was a chance it wouldn't work for a few days, and if it did, there was a good chance he wouldn't be able to understand speech or environmental sounds on the first day. We were also told that he would never have "normal" hearing.
But we all, despite our better judgment and superstitions (as Cubs fans, we all firmly accept that believing and hoping for something out of our control is the best way to ruin the chance of getting that wish granted), hoped that he would go against the odds and be able to hear. Seven of us hoped for this so much that we cancelled all other commitments and went to the hospital with him while they turned on and programmed the electronic cochlea to see if he could hear us.
After they spent two hours programming his electronic cochlea, they allowed my grandma, aunt, and mother into the tiny office. My grandma spoke to him first while my mom and aunt watched. Then, they allowed the rest of us into the room. As I was the only one who had been in the waiting room all morning, the doctor had me stand in front of my grandpa before everyone else (with the exception of my grandma) and talk to him. I hadn't been in the office when they first turned it on and when my grandma had spoken to him. My mom, grandma, and aunt all had tears in their eyes. I couldn't tell if they were tears of disappointment or joy. And I was about to find out.
"I'm going to the Cubs' game with you tomorrow," I said. As soon as those words exited my mouth, I somewhat regretted them. After all, this moment had the potential to be one of the most significant moments of my life and my grandpa's life, and the words I chose had no particular elegance about them, nor did they seem to indicate a turning point in both of our lives. Of all the things I could have talked about, I talked about the most simple, banal, common topic in the Kehoe family: the Chicago Cubs.
But then something unusual and completely unheard of happened. My grandpa didn't say, "What?" or try to guess what I had just said. In fact, he turned to the audiologist, beaming with a sense of overwhelming pride and excitement, and said, "I heard her! She said she's going to the Cubs game with me tomorrow!" The irony that the lovable losers, who my grandpa has loved his whole life and who have continually disappointed him his whole life, had marked one of the greatest successes in my grandpa's life was obvious. The doctor nodded and smiled at my grandpa, who, in turn, looked at me. He saw me smiling with tears in my eyes and his own eyes welled up.
Both of us has accepted long ago that he would never hear me speak or be able to converse normally. But that day we were both proved wrong. I had just had a conversation with my grandfather and he had just heard my voice. Both of these goals were supposed to be at least a few weeks and many hours of training away. That day, I witnessed my first miracle.
This experience is one I will always look back at with fondness. Not only was it one of the most profound moments in my seventeen-year-old life, but it taught me so much about life and love. I always thought that my grandpa had always taught me to be strong, but on that day it became clear that he should have been teaching me about strength as well as hope and perseverance. He had been strong for over fifty years, living life deaf. Yet, more importantly, he had worked through his disability, never giving up, even after trying failed method after failed method. He had never felt bad for himself, never asked for sympathy. Instead he worked much harder than the average man to support his family and himself.
Yet, he always had hope. He always allowed himself just enough hope to get by without feeling bad for himself, but never enough hope to crush him when yet another solution to his deafness failed.