In a down-home style – as if we’re sitting in rocking chairs on her front porch over a pitcher of ice tea – Bainy Cyrus tells her story of growing up deaf in a primarily hearing world in All Eyes: A Memoir of Deafness. Cyrus’s humor, upbeat outlook and commitment to clarity make All Eyes a valuable read for people of all ages and abilities. All Eyes begins with Cyrus’s infancy in the 1960s as her parents struggled to discover the cause of her lack of responsiveness as well as her perceived inability to speak. Worried she had autism, they brought her to specialists who finally diagnosed her deafness at two-and-a-half years old. Cyrus’s working as a job coach assisting persons with disabilities in finding parents made the heartrending decision to send her 700 miles away to Clarke School in Northampton, MA when she was only five-years-old. With a lot of hard work, Cyrus thrived at Clarke, and later went on to attend a typical third-grade classroom and beyond. In 1985, she graduated from Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in horticulture. Readers follow her story right up to the present, to find her happily married to a hearing man and competitive employment.
In the telling of her life story, Cyrus displays an incredible sensitivity and empathy for those who tried to diagnose and provide therapeutic assistance for her deafness. She shows a sweet understanding of the limitations in knowledge and technology in the 1960s and ‘70s, and she is careful never to lay blame on anybody in her life. Although Cyrus shares generously about the social isolation of being deaf in a hearing world, All Eyes rarely digs deep into the trauma and emotional angst of Cyrus’s life, perhaps due to her nearly relentless optimism and fortitude. As she writes about her struggles to socialize in elementary school, “Despite the feeling of isolation, I was determined not to let group conversation bother me too much…I never wanted people to feel sorry for me.”
Most remarkably, All Eyes succeeds unequivocally in providing readers with profound insight into the learning styles, specific challenges and world perspective of a deaf person. Most readers will be astounded to learn of the expansive ways deafness touches one’s life. Through her eyes and ears, Cyrus shows readers the vast ways the loss of hearing has on one’s experience of the world – from a difficulty understanding humor to the subtleties of interpersonal dynamics, from delayed language acquisition to the small moments, like the inabilities of a group of five-year-old girls with new rain boots to splash in puddles while belting out Singin’ in the Rain.
At the time of her attendance there, Clarke School strictly taught oralism (lip-reading only). This approach, combined with Cyrus’s ability to hear certain sounds with amplification, set the stage for Cyrus’s personal style of living within a hearing culture as a lip-reader after she left Clarke School. Alongside our narrator, readers become aware of the choices deaf people must make about how to live their lives (whether from within the hearing community or within the borders of the deaf community) as well as how to communicate (via lip-reading or sign language.) Cyrus opens readers’ eyes to the dichotomy within the deaf community, coloring the view with her eagerness to ease these divisions.
Without a doubt, this book will greatly expand readers’ understanding of the challenges of being deaf in a hearing world. Ultimately, readers will attain a whole new appreciation for the great cumulative efforts of the constant hurdles, both small and large, that a deaf person must face every single day. One can only gain great respect for the author’s persistent determination and almost perennial positive spirit throughout it all. As Cyrus writes, “My main goal in writing this memoir is to build a bridge between hearing and deaf people. It is badly needed.” Certainly, she has accomplished that task and more.