WASHINGTON, November 20, 2012 – In September, 2011, a 29-year-old girl was able to hear for the first time due to science and the Esteem Hearing Implant by Envoy Medical. Sarah’s reaction to hearing her own voice for the first time is pure joy as the video captures those first moments the implant begins to operate. One cannot deny that it is a ‘miracle’ of sciences’ in the making.
Cochlear implants are one of science’s great success stories; they are a marvelous invention which allows wires from a microphone to be connected directly to a person’s auditory nerve in the shell like part of the ear called the cochlea. This allows damaged parts of the ear to be bypassed, and as a result, people who had been born profoundly deaf are allowed to hear for the first time.
Sarah’s is not the only video online. At first some of those filmed don’t hear anything; and sometimes you see disappointment, even bitterness on their face – you can imagine their thoughts: “Why did I trust those people who said I would be able to hear?; it might have worked for other people, but not for me; I will always be deaf; I should have learnt by now that hope just brings disappointment.”
But the technician isn’t fazed by this initial response. The power has to be turned up slowly. If it is done too quickly, the shock of hearing for the first time is just too alarming.
And so they gradually turn the power up and up until at last enough power is traveling through the electrodes of the implant that the nerve endings are activated.
And so the deaf hear. Where there had only been silence, now there is a shockingly intimate presence in the centre of their being. Some people show a moment of alarm at this intrusion.
But it is quickly swamped by joy and often heartfelt, weeping relief. I defy anyone to watch it and remain unmoved by the experience.
Those of us who can hear can only guess at the isolation that deafness must impose. We can experiment by blocking our ears for a little while. In some respects it is peaceful, but that is more of a reflection of the stress of the modern world.
The overwhelming feeling is of isolation, of being alone, of being separate. Indeed when I watch the footage of these people hearing for the first time, and their relief, it is this sense of isolation ending that impresses me most.
All of us live our lives isolated from one another, not by barriers imposed by a lack of sensory input, but by our own preoccupations. We are isolated by our personal fears, and by our personal need to constantly prove ourselves. As a result we are selfish – everything is about us, to the extent that we can barely empathize with anyone or anything beyond our selfish concerns. Our selfishness isolates us more profoundly than any sensory deprivation ever could.
What must it be like to break free of these preoccupations and experience the world with an open mind and heart; to break free of our self imposed isolation with all the pain and accretions of our life stripped away and left behind; to lay down our burden? I suggest you would know unbound relief and joy, beyond even that of the person hearing for the first time.
I am reminded of Emily Dickenson’s words: “Exultation is the going of an inland soul to sea.”
On the road to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus, who would later be Saint Paul, let Christ into his heart. The shock was so great that he not only fell off his donkey, but was struck blind for three days. Paul’s shock shows us just how isolated we are in our selfishness, and how lifeless our lives are compared with a life lived in acceptance of the living God.
The shock of hearing for the first time is a good metaphor, but our imprisonment is so complete, and what awaits is so glorious, that even it falls hopelessly short.
The greatest miracle is when Christ allows a heart to love again
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