Shribman: Be the mercy of the world

PITTSBURGH – Listen. Virginia Montanez can’t hear. But you need to hear what she has to say.

Of course, if you were in the audience when she delivered her remarks to the graduating class of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, you heard her story — how her hearing deteriorated and how much her hearing ability deteriorated shaped her life, like one word of a dentist gave her insight and restored her faith in humanity.

Montanez, 48, is a Pittsburgh socialite, blogger, comedian, social critic and activist known for her command of the culture of the colorful city-state in the southwestern tip of Pennsylvania. Her novel “Nothing. Everything.” Along with coal and natural gas, it’s one of the region’s greatest natural resources. Most of the time, it’s known for laughing more than it rants.

But when she recently stood in front of the graduates, she was very matter-of-fact and gave a speech that went around the world. It came to my attention through a friend in Afghanistan who passed it on with the admonition that I had to drop everything and read it.

It is the testimony of a person who lost her son’s voice and then the sound of her own voice.

Although she suffers from bilateral profound sensorineural hearing loss with reverse tendency, she has not lost her stronger voice, the voice that urges us to listen to the words of a woman who can no longer hear the pages of a newspaper turning.

One might assume that being born into a supportive family that never made me feel weak or limited would mean that I would develop a healthy relationship with my disability. On the surface, I’d say that for decades. It’s me! This is my handicap! I am not ashamed!

Inside? Well, on the inside, I’ve lived a life of mostly trying to pose as a hearing person, and when I couldn’t, shame swirled around me. I mocked myself as I banished myself to the shadows.

Those shadows consumed her and darkened her days, even as she had to have a conversation with Franco Harris, the late author of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ famous “Immaculate Reception” play that was the highlight of the 1972 AFC divisional playoffs, and – together with Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off home run in game seven of the 1960 World Series – the greatest moment in that city’s sports history.

In a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last year, she recounted how during her conversation with the beloved running back, she “turned the volume up to the max and leaned my ear against the speaker like a medieval time traveler new to telecommunications.” becomes.” ”

It worked. Montanez — sometimes known locally as PittGirl — has a genius at making things work. One way to make things work is by lip reading. She reads from lips like other people read books – with great attention and great joy. But COVID and its masks have undone that.

I’ve said no to so many things I wanted to do because my ability to communicate was taken away. Stress has been my constant companion in every interaction in any business or company. Weakness. Embarrassment. Frustration. This was my new existence.

The result was a heartbreaking episode as she took her child to the dentist. She couldn’t understand what he was saying. She did something she had never done before. she said dr Jordan Telin that she is deaf and cannot read his lips because of the mask.

He held up a finger then walked away leaving me in my frustration that this was my COVID life. When he came back he handed me a legal pad on which he had written a word at the top that changed my life:

“Hello.” exclamation mark.

It was a redeeming moment. Let’s listen to Montanez again:

The “hello” cleared the swirling fog of shame and allowed me to focus on something I had never realized before, but now I’m sure many had shown me: mercy.

The point of all of this – the point of her story and of this column – is that Telin’s handwritten message gave her the freedom to seek the helping hand of others and to do what another Pittsburgher, Fred Rogers, once advised: “Seek out.” Helpers.” ”

In her speech to the graduates, Montanez addressed what we might call Mr. Rogers’ Rules of Order:

His message was simple: When you’re scared. If you’re scared. If things are bigger than you… look for helpers; Therein lies the consolation.

After reading this speech transmitted from Kabul, I told Montanez about my own moment of being helped, from the other side of her circumstances. She can’t hear; I couldn’t speak for a long time without stuttering. There was a speech therapist from a public school in our seaside town who gave me a book of Franklin Roosevelt’s speeches and told me to go to the beach and take those remarks to the Atlantic.

I learned a lot about FDR. I still know passages of these speeches, word for word, which will be useful for my later work. I also know the grace that comes with a helping hand.

Montanez responded and said my story was “further proof that sometimes it takes just one person… to kick off the first domino toward change.” Amazing that your life would have been so different without her.”

TRUE. And here’s a good place to add that for a stutterer, the helping hand is time. Be patient. Never – under no circumstances – complete a sentence of a stutterer. And don’t confuse a halting speech with a halting mind. Joe Biden, the country’s most famous stutterer, will agree. In our case, the movement of the hand of the clock is the helping hand.

Montanez ended her address to the graduates with a challenge:

When you see the need, YOU fill the need. When you see them feeling small and looking for helpers, YOU are the helper. Even if a patient doesn’t realize they need it, be THE mercy.

Be the person who removes the shame. Be the one who erases years of stress with the flick of a wrist, with the scribble of your pen. YOU are the one pulling them into the sun.

Words on life from Virginia Montanez, who lives in and donates the sun even in overcast Pittsburgh.

David M. Shribman, a member of the Swampscott High School class of 1972, is the Pulitzer Prize-winning former editor-in-chief of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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