I think the real gift of a handicap — I don’t know about a disease — is that you, you come to a place where you know you can’t do something. And if you hold on there, something emerges. There is always another way to go. Always. ~ Claire

In the summer of 2020, while all of us around the globe were isolated in some way from those we love, award-winning photographer and filmmaker Doug Menuez found a way for us to gather safely, outdoors, to listen closely to the stories of seven individuals for whom grateful living is a way of life. The result of Doug’s beautiful work is a new video series, Grateful Voices.  In the short film and narrative below Claire, who generously participated in the project, shares her story.

Claire’s Story

“Though I became profoundly deaf at 6 and didn’t get my first hearing aid till I was 12, I was mainstreamed. When 22, while attending Gallaudet University as a graduate student, I met for the first time others like myself who were deaf. I soon felt pressure to choose between the hearing world and the world of Deaf Culture, whose primary form of communication is American Sign Language, known as ASL. I chose the hearing world because, as an undergraduate at Bennington College, I’d been immersed in art, philosophy, and poetry, and those worlds spoke to me not of physical differences that may separate us but of a wholeness of spirit that we all come from and can share. Over 50 years later, my ASL is nil, but I have great admiration for my deaf friends who embrace both Deaf Culture and the hearing world.

At 22 I still wanted to work with the deaf, so I trained as an oral teacher and taught for 25 years. I resolved to help deaf children discover that we hear not only with our ears, but also with our eyes, senses of touch and smell, inquiring minds, and open hearts. Gratitude really sets the stage for this to happen —leads to connections and possibilities one may never have imagined. When I’m grateful one thing leads to another. And I find that what is needed is often very close — just an arm’s length away in a tree or an eye’s length away in a smile. 

Another reason I chose at 22 to be in the hearing world was that I was in love with a hearing man. With Edward I found a safe and cozy home for 52 years. Ed and I had two wonderful daughters who married wonderful guys and have wonderful children. I’m lucky to have them, especially now, for Ed died this past April from complications of late-stage Parkinson’s and COVID-19. 

How can one be grateful for Parkinson’s? I’ve been asking that for some time. This is a tough nut to crack. Having seen Parkinson’s up close, my heart goes out to all who know what a merciless, contracting force it can be. Yet anything that pushes against life in us can also, paradoxically, push us into the arms of life. When I experience that and gratitude, I find the connections, possibilities, help, comfort. They’re all near, in fact, right here, right now!”

We invite you to share comments in the space below the video transcript which follows.

Video Transcript

Hi. C-L-A-I-R.E. Claire.

I became deaf when I was…10 days after I turned six. I had the mumps, and I woke up one morning and I couldn’t hear. I wanted to get up and run around, and be in the snow outside, and everybody was kind of tip-toeing around me, trying to figure out how to communicate with me. And right away, I realized that I had to hear through my eyes.

I can’t say that I was grateful for being deaf. I was very aware that I was out of the world. And when I was a kid, I prayed every night, for weeks, that my hearing would be turned back on, the way it had been turned off. And I thought that God was too busy for that. And then I figured that God himself could not be deaf. He must have heard it the first time. So I’ll shut up, and just keep going.

When you put forth a wish like that, other ways of hearing become evident right away. So what I would say is that I’m grateful that there was help everywhere. Yeah. All around us. And we may think we want this, but we may really need that. And there’s a wonderful quotation —I can’t remember if it’s Alexander Graham Bell — who says that when one window closes, we often spend our time looking at it, feeling miserable. But we aren’t aware that another window has opened up. And I’m grateful — that’s what I’m grateful for.

I think the real gift of a handicap — I don’t know about a disease — is that you, you come to a place where you know you can’t do something. And if you hold on there, something emerges. There is always another way to go. Always. And I’d say that that made me grateful for the grit within myself, because every time I came up to something, and I couldn’t do it, and I thought. Well, I had a terrible temper as a kid. I would fly into rages. My father had to throw water on me. They didn’t help. Neither the water, nor the rages (laughs) So every time I came up against something, I found there was a way through it. And every time I did that, something in me became tougher. I don’t like to say “tougher,” ’cause it’s also softer. But I — I would say that there is a gift — something to be grateful for — in every disability, because it shows you more about life. It really opens you more to life, in some way. That’s what I would say.

The window of the natural world, well they opened to me, because I would go roaming for hours, as a kid. Back in those days, your parents let you go roaming, and that was my good fortune. I roamed, and I found rivers that spoke to me. And I walked along the beach by the ocean. And the, the waves spoke to me. And the trees. I never felt alone, outside. 

I feel extremely lucky. All my life, I’ve been lucky. I used to argue with my father about this. He said, “There’s no such thing as luck. There’s good planning, but there’s no luck.” I said, “No, because every turn I’ve gone to, there’s been, for me, good luck.” And I think good luck is a form of gratitude. 

If I was to give a piece of wisdom, I would say, be expectant. Expect something. Be curious. Be hopeful. And always be glad — for whatever comes to you. And for whatever you feel you can give, because you always can give something. And I think the more you give, the more is given to you.

Thank you, Doug Menuez and team, including Executive Producer Pear Urushima, Director of Photography Luke Carquillat, and Sound Technician/Gaffer Dino Davaros, for the grace and heart you bring to your work in making it possible for the diverse stories of grateful living to be shared.

To watch more films in this series, visit Grateful Voices.

Grateful Voices