God help you if you are a phoenix
and you dare to rise up from the ash
a thousand eyes will smolder with jealousy
while you are just flying past
–Ani DiFranco, “32 Flavors”
The quote from “32 Flavors” resonates with me, and not necessarily the way DiFranco intended when she wrote the song. Recently I told my family that I am tired of being a trailblazer. I’m hearing impaired. I teach, I write, and no one in the school district seems to know what to do with me. They’re accustomed to shuttling their disabled students off to special classes, but a disabled, capable, professional? They’re stumped.
Maybe the image from DiFranco’s song is what I need. If I can re-imagine my role not as the one out front stepping in front of the crowd, leading the way through the mud and getting slashed with low-hanging branches, if I can envision instead the phoenix rising from the ashes, it might give me the strength to fight my battles and leave a good, clear path for those who follow.
It’s not easy being – well, it’s like Kermit the Frog. It’s not easy being different. I wonder if some perceive my success as somehow easier, rather than harder, than theirs. Do they think I got a break because I don’t hear well? I have a hearing aid compatible phone. I.T. provided me with a longer cord so the computer monitor doesn’t interfere with my telecoil setting. Those reasonable accommodations, however, didn’t make teaching easier than it is for other, non-disabled teachers. These accommodations merely leveled the playing field.
Now I’m moving to a new position, one that I feel will be a better fit for my abilities than attempting to hear and react to a large, noisy classroom. I applied for and got this job through seniority, not through disability. I hope no one thinks I’ve jumped the line by virtue of my hearing loss. Then again, who cares? Anyone who thinks so is wrong. I know what the truth is, and if I rise from the ashes on my own, it’s a gain for all around me.