Breaking the Surface

Book Review by Chris Wixtrom     © 1999

Deaf Again, by Mark Drolsbaugh  1997
Handwave Publications , 1121 N. Bethlehem Pike, Suite 60 - 134, Springhouse, PA 19477  
fax: 215 368 3797
ISBN: 0-9657460-1-1, $16.95 US, $22.95 Canada

In Deaf Again, Drolsbaugh asks the reader to swim a mile in his scuba gear. "Imagine that you were born ... (in a ) glass bubble underwater. You could watch all the fish swim and play, but you weren’t really a participant in that life ... With the help of technology, though, you could put on scuba gear and swim with the fish. However, the gear was heavy and uncomfortable, and as much as it helped you interact with the fish, you never were able to swim like them. You were different, and you knew it." Tempted to see what was up above, you were warned not to swim to the surface. After all, "Everyone knows it’s a liquid world ... Air is too thin, land is too hard. It’s a liquid world.’"

Through this insightful book, we see Mark Drolsbaugh’s struggles to survive underwater, and we eventually emerge from the sea and breathe fresh air with him as he finds the wisdom, courage, and skills necessary to treasure both land and sea.

This is not just another deaf person’s autobiography. We’ve heard plenty from the disability-oriented perspective which promotes synthesis into the hearing world as the pinnacle of success for deaf persons. And we’ve seen scores of stories by advocates of American Sign Language (ASL) and Deaf Culture, presenting silence as a state of higher consciousness. But this book gives us something new to think about: an inside-out look at both sides from someone who has been both hearing and deaf and has crossed back and forth between silent and speaking worlds since birth.

Born hearing to deaf, signing parents, Mark gradually lost his hearing. Despite the fact that his deaf parents preferred sign communication, Mark was raised and educated without the use of sign language. His parents and grandparents were concerned that sign might interfere with speech and restrict his educational achievement. Although Mark became increasingly hard-of-hearing, he worked hard to "pass" as a hearing person. This ambition, he later discovered, actually constricted his development and limited the depth of relationships with family and friends. During these long years, he just "didn’t know what (he) was missing." When he later learned ASL, chose to mix with deaf people, and learned to perceive deafness as something special, his horizons expanded. He came to value communication and relationships above the things that seemed so important to many people, such as image, income, status, skills, religious background, or race. His persuasive book sounds a clear warning to all who would circumscribe their lives with prejudicial barriers.

Although Mark’s early hearing acuity, stubborn determination, excellent educational opportunities and strong family support helped him to find a measure of success, he regrets the slow progress of his emotional and spiritual development. He says that at age 22, "the real me, the fully-actualized Mark Drolsbaugh, was only about one or two years old." Now he says, "I am proud of who I am, proud of what I’ve overcome, and proud of my culture." Deaf Culture, he believes, "strengthens" people and helps them to enjoy each other, despite their differences. He writes his story not to scoff, scold or scorch, but to spark discussion and help people see the simple truth that "Human interaction is a blessing." Read Deaf Again and share a peek beneath the sea and a sunrise walk along the shore with a friend.

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