The room is silent, yet conversation is abundantly clear. No vocal sounds can be heard, but facial expressions and body language convey a wealth of ideas, feelings and thoughts. Other than the silence; perhaps the first thing you notice is the hand movement. Every pair of hands is busy — gesturing, explaining and “talking”.
This is the world of the deaf. A silent world to us whose ears are functioning within normal parameters; but a world filled with beauty and laughter.
Anyone who has ever observed someone speaking in sign language is at least familiar with what I’m describing. But there is so much more to be heard in the realm of silence. My friend, Wendy, has brought this language again to my attention. I first mastered finger spelling (this is spelling the alphabet one letter at a time on one hand) in junior high school. It was interesting to me then and seemed like some kind of secret code.
Later, in high school, I can remember a fellow student whose parents were both deaf. While he was able to hear, his mom and dad could not. During Open House at the school, the group of us were touring the library. I can remember how fascinated I was watching this young man interpret for his parents. I can also remember wishing desperately to be able to understand what was being said. What had been translated that brought such a smile to his mother’s face? I felt left out, to a degree.
Don’t you suppose the deaf feel the same way? Left out, at times. Unable to get the joke or comprehend a play on words. They can’t hear the tone of the voice that indicates sarcasm. Those who live in a world of silence are acutely aware of facial expressions and know that people are smiling, chuckling or even laughing. But laughing at what?
To us the silence seems unbearable. To them, the silence is normal. They have learned to listen with their hearts, while we are sometimes, too dependent on our ears.
Oh, to be able to hear as the deaf. To be able to understand that while someone is saying they’re happy; their eyes are sad and their shoulders are drooped as if under a heavy burden. They’re wringing their hands in despair and the message is HEARD loud and clear, “I’m miserable. Please help me.” The image at the left here is the sign for “friend”. If more people in the world today could listen with their hearts and comprehend what was really being said, perhaps there would be less confusion and fighting.
To my friend, Wendy, thank you for your patience in helping me understand your language. May its beauty be appreciated by everyone; for if silence is golden, the deaf are truly rich.
Footnote: I’ve lost touch with Wendy. She and I went to church together many years ago. I will always think of her when I see someone speaking in sign language. And, as an interpreter friend told me once, “Don’t stare when people are signing. It IS considered eves-dropping.”
Until next time; I’ll be rambling on.