My husband Sam and I were hosting our usual Friday night dinner with friends, something we’ve been doing for several years. Sam is a psychology professor at NYU and I manage Dahlia’s, an eponymously named floral shop.
Our weekly dinner companions are Claude and his wife Piper who own a small eclectic bookstore called The Paper Trail and Austin and Rebecca who have been engaged for seven years. Rebecca is a music teacher at a private school in Manhattan and Austin is a graphic designer. We keep asking them “When’s the big day?” but neither one seems to be in a rush.
Our dinner conversations are always lively, touching on a variety of topics. This particular evening, Sam said “I asked my class this question today: ‘If you had to choose between being deaf or being blind, which would you choose?’ Now, my friends, I’d like to know how you would answer that question.” My husband – ever the provocateur! Perhaps that’s what I find so stimulating about him.
Well, no big surprise, no one said anything for a moment; this was a profound question. I finally decided to break the ice by responding. “For me, as a florist, I would have to say I’d choose to be deaf. I need to see the arrangements I’m creating, which color flowers go well together, the best bouquets to match bridesmaid’s dresses, even something as simple as placing flowers in the right vase. I wouldn’t have to hear the bell on the shop’s front door or the telephone ring; both can be hooked up to a light to get my attention. And customers could always email or text me with their orders. Why, I could even communicate with my customers via tablets in the shop. I’d still be able to see and smell all the beautiful flowers, meet my customer’s expectations and take pride in my creations.”
Spurred on by my answer, Austin chimed in. “Exactly! I totally agree with Dahlia. In the field of graphic design, I would be incapable of working without the ability to see. These days there are so many electronic devices we can use to communicate; I don’t think being deaf would interfere with my life or my work at all.”
Immediately Rebecca countered what we said. “I get where the two of you are coming from but I could never teach music if I were deaf. I’d be able to place my fingers on the correct piano keys or strum the right strings on a guitar because I’ve been making music all my life. It’s second nature to me. But I wouldn’t want to exist without the sound of music, to hear my students playing, to correct their mistakes or praise their achievements. It would be impossible for me to conduct an orchestra, not knowing if the violins should be a little louder or the bassoons pianissimo. Austin, if you were deaf, you wouldn’t hear the wedding march when I walk down the aisle or hear me say the words ‘I do’.”
Austin was quick to reply. “As long as I could see your radiant face in your gorgeous wedding gown carrying the beautiful bouquet designed by Dahlia, that’s all that would matter. And as far as hearing you say ‘I do’, I would read your luscious lips before tenderly kissing my new bride.”
We all laughed as Sam exclaimed “Nice save, Austin! Claude and Piper, we’ve yet to hear from you. What’s your poison – deaf or blind?”
As if on cue, both Claude and Piper declared their answers at the same time; he said “Deaf”; she said “Blind”. They stared at each other in bewilderment and the rest of us couldn’t help but laugh at the expressions on their faces. Of course Sam had to keep the game going by saying “At last! Some controversy, a little gasoline on the fire of our conversation. Let’s keep this ball rolling!” and he poured everyone a fresh glass of wine.
Claude cleared his throat. “Piper, mon cher, we own a bookstore! How can you possibly say you would choose blindness over deafness? Mon Dieu! Have you forgotten how we bonded at that little book shop in Paris … what was the name? Ah! La Manoeuvre! We both reached for the same book of poetry by Paul Eluard and when our eyes met I knew I could never look away.’’
“Oh, my darling Claude. I could never forget La Manoeuvre. You read poetry to me and time stood still. It was as though we were the only people in that shop. Our love for books is why we bought The Paper Trail; that store is our baby. I know each book on every shelf and have read most of them. The feel of the paper, the smell of the leather-bound first editions, hearing you read to me – I do not need sight to love a book.”
Piper and Claude moved closer to each other and embraced, momentarily forgetting they were not alone. They kissed, then pulled away, embarrassed. Piper blushed and gave a breathless laugh.
“Claude, do you remember the books I had in my bag the day we first met?” Piper asked.
Claude nodded and said “Oui. One was ‘Wuthering Heights’ in Braille and the other was French sign language. They were for your parents.”
Piper looked around the room at the rest of us and explained. “My mother is blind and my father is deaf. Somehow they never had trouble communicating; I suppose they spoke the silent language of love. That’s why I was so passionate about having a Braille section in our bookstore. Also, there is new technology to help both blind and deaf people enjoy a movie or television.”
Turning to Claude, Piper said “As long as I can hear your voice, it doesn’t matter if I never see another thing again.”
We all felt a little in awe of Piper at that moment. We sipped our wine, captivated by the sounds of silence.
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