Christmas Day of 1963, Susan, a nineteen-year-old, deaf woman, was walking across the street. Moments before, she was sharing in the laughter, gift exchange, and delicious treats of the holiday season. She sees her boyfriend, Wayne, also profoundly deaf, a few steps ahead of her on the quiet residential road, a road that she knew since childhood. As she stretches her hand out, attempting to use her sense of touch to grab his attention, a speeding blue Chevrolet Camaro comes flying around the corner. Without warning, the deaf woman was instantaneously hit and thrown nearly 60 feet through the air. Both Wayne and his girlfriend did not hear the roaring, speeding car come racing around the corner. Nor did they sense the inebriation and impairment of the person behind the wheel. Four months later, she woke up out of a coma and was informed that she nearly broke every bone on the right side of her body. That deaf woman was my maternal grandmother, who was innocently hit by a person driving senselessly under the influence of alcohol. Her life was forever changed. Though this story has been recounted hundreds of times over the years, I feel an escalated sense of familiarity as if I were present at the crime scene.
Susan Marcil Baran survived this tragic accident, but not without complications and complete rehabilitation of basic skills, such as learning how to feed herself and walk again which impacted her for the rest of her life. After the investigation, the person charged with driving under the influence and almost manslaughter was a co-worker of Susan’s father. Our family’s anger and fear set in.
This event, even 54 years ago, has forever impacted my life. There is a very real and troubling thought that I may not be here today had the unfortunate events nearly a half-century ago turned out differently. I constantly think about the many possible outcomes a certain situation could have on my life, and this horrific event remains visible and impactful. If my grandmother, a young lady at the time, had been tragically killed due to someone else’s carelessness, our family’s lineage would never had evolved as it has. A careless mistake or action through someone else’s negligence can cause irreparable harm and forever lasting damage. People do not slow down to think about how their actions can affect someone else. Unfortunately, we see this far too often today with distracted or impaired drivers. My grandmother could never have envisioned that Christmas Day would turn into a painful and life-threatening circumstance. Christmas is a day for celebration and family, not for a near-death tragedy.
Though this memorable and painful experience did not explicitly involve me, I live with the scars and wounds from what my grandmother had to unfortunately endure. People frequently and overtly disregard individuals with disabilities. It is difficult enough from them to cope with daily responsibilities, but to see things from that individual’s vantage point encourages us all to slow down and be mindful of an individual’s difference–especially, if that person has a profound disability, as was the case with my grandmother.
A positive outcome from the unfortunate event, is that our family is one intertwined with love and closeness. Personally, living in a deaf household, I have had to survive, adapt and learn differently. My relatives’ senses have been heightened and through their ability to adapt, I have learned to be unassuming. A horrific incident, had it played out differently, could have completely changed my family’s lives, yet it did not. I have grown from this incident and truly appreciate the amazing life and the bright future that I have been given.
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