Masonic Foundation Of Ontario

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A Lifetime of Hearing Impairment

Kevin Murtagh was born deaf in one ear and with considerable physical disfigurement to that ear. He underwent two years of surgery which helped his appearance but he was still hearing impaired. His story.

The reason that I'm documenting my experience in life is in the hope that my story will help other children who face the same problems, that is, they are born with hearing impairment, or worse still, disfigurement. I hope my first-hand account of my experience will serve to reinforce that children with hearing impairments can be and need to be helped, and that we, as members of society, and human beings, are in a position to provide this help.

I was born in 1931 and in those days, one must remember, when individuals were born with any type of defect, they were looked upon as freaks of nature. Many also regarded it as an affliction imposed by God's will. While I personally did not, indeed, could not, accept this type of explanation that was prevalent, I encountered that type of thinking in almost every aspect of my life while I was growing up. As a victim, if you will, of such mentality, one was discriminated against or shut out from the mainstream in many ways, intentionally or otherwise. The actions and behaviour of children were often cruel, and so were those of grown-ups. Even intentions of kindness were cruel. These ran the gamut, from if accept your predicament, it's God's will", to "trust me, you'll never amount to anything, because you're a freak of nature", to "you'll have to learn to live with it and accept that you cannot overcome something that is pre-ordained." As a child hungering for support, acceptance and reassurance, this was what was drummed into me.

For me personally, going through school it was hell. I was picked on. I was jeered. I was called names. Many a time, I went home with bruises and bloody noses because of my reaction to such taunts. I cannot remember any scrap that I won.

In school, I was relegated to the back of the classroom, which only served to exacerbate, not ameliorate, the problem. In those days, classes normally consisted of 30-40 students, and so individual attention from the teachers was nonexistent. The fact that I could not hear very well led to the conclusion that I was a bit of a slow learner and not very bright.

These additional labels were burdens any child my age did not need or deserve. The teachers told my parents I would never amount to very much, and unfortunately, to some extent, they believed it.

In retrospect, now that I am 69, those experiences had an adverse effect and built up a lot of anger and resentment in me. The sense of rejection and guilt was extremely detrimental to both my self-confidence and self-esteem. My range of emotions inevitably included anger. Anger at others for stereotyping me and for not giving me a chance; anger at those close to me for accepting the same labelling unquestioningly; anger at myself for getting the wrong end of the "luck of the draw"; and perhaps most sadly of all, anger at not even knowing who to be angry at, or to blame for my condition. Needless to say, I was painfully shy and self-conscious with the girls as a teenager, which only added to my sense of isolation and inadequacy.

As a result, I turned inward and developed Kevin's "safer world". I sought refuge in hobbies and past-times that did not require the company of others. Much of my spare time was spent deploying my massive collection of lead soldiers. I developed a love of music and a fascination for astronomy. With these hobbies, I could momentarily forget my realities and dream of a different life - a different role - where I was in total control of my own life, and where nothing was impossible. On a dark clear night, I could touch the stars simply by reaching out.

When I was in my 50's, I visited an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) specialist, and he informed me, much to my surprise - very much to my surprise - that I had an inner ear on my right side. By that time, a technology (called bone induction) could be used, which, had it been available when I was a child or a teenager, would have given me the best part of perfect hearing. If not 100%, then at least 80%. I am sharing my experiences because I, of all people, am all too well aware that having a hearing impairment can affect almost every aspect of one's life. Much of my life for many years, and what I am today, was dictated by what I had to do in my quest to overcome this impairment. I am more fortunate than many others in similar circumstances at the time in that I had the resources and the will (even defiance) to pursue my course of action. That was almost half a century ago. Things are much better today. There is much more general awareness about hearing impairment, or any impairment for that matter. There is much less inclination to label individuals as being "limited" or incapable of doing certain things because of such impediments. The education system is much better equipped to deal with these issues to ensure that children with these problems benefit fully, academically as well as emotionally during the most formative years of their lives. As well, there is general acceptance that the families need as much education and support as society and the medical profession can give. Most importantly, there is medical technology for early detection and surgical correction of most hearing problems. Much is available that was not there when I was a child. But one must not be complacent that "things are better". Things are where they are today because of great strides in the last 50 years, spurred on by research and development that led to better understanding of the causes, and therefore, the prevention and cures. This momentum must be continued and accelerated. The bar must constantly be raised. All the necessary resources must be there for this to happen.

Our Grand Lodge is taking a leadership position in supporting this effort. I urge all to give it your individual support. I urge you all to challenge others, individuals, professionals and corporations alike, to embrace this cause. There are so many things that can be done for hearing impairments today. No child with this problem needs to feel different or disadvantaged. Our children are our most valuable assets for the future. Let us make sure that no child has to go through life having to overcome any physical or emotional baggage as associated with it. Let us make sure that they want to "touch the stars" because they can, because it is within their potential, not because they are reaching for their only bright light in a world of darkness!

W. Bro. Kevin P. Murtagh is a Past Master of Georgina Lodge No. 343 GRC in Toronto