We sat at an oval table. There were seven of us having a conversation. It was a typical conversation: We had some laughs, times of serious stories, questions, personal reflections. We interrupted each other and the best part was you did not have to feel guilty about not bowing your head or closing your eyes during prayer. No one else was either. All was silent. And yet, I understood almost every word.
Isn’t that exciting? I sat for an hour listening with my eyes, talking with my hands–American Sign Language! I have not had an experience like this since I took a summer ASL class in college. The Deaf community of the town got together every so often for dinners at local restaurants and they had invited me to go as well. That was one amazing dinner and conversation!! 🙂 Here, our group is much smaller and diverse: There are the two interpreters; a couple–the man, mildly hearing-impaired and the wife, hearing; a Deaf man; an occasional college student who is studying ASL; and me–profoundly deaf, but can still hear a small percentage. But we all sit together on Sunday mornings for the same reason: to hear the sermon.
Our interpreters came up with the idea of our group meeting after the first service to have a time of fellowship. I think it is a brilliant idea! Soon after we started, I discovered that I am in dire need to practice, practice, practice my signing! The group assured me in full support–“This is the best place to practice.” How true. Watching people talk with sign language is different from actual signing. I know most signs and can sign well enough to carry a conversation. But I doubt my memory of the signs and I literally cannot fingerspell. I used to be fluent–signs would just float in the air as I tried to sign as fast as I talk. But the college days are over. I re-entered the hearing world–outside of my classes, chapels, Deaf friend and interpreter–becoming dependent on it, forgetting my signs. Yesterday was my motivation reminder: “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” ~Aristotle
I lip-read, even when talking with a Deaf person or an interpreter. I can see the signs, but the focus is lip-reading. Like taking a picture–focusing on something in the background, yet you can still see what is in front. Same goes for how I communicate. So when they don’t use the mouth function..I see how much it impacts the way I receive the information. (Not as good.) For myself, I still “hear.” Therefore, I associate lip-reading with sound. I live with a hearing family…so when I open my mouth to speak–instinct tells me to use my voice. How else am I to be heard? As we carried on our conversation yesterday, I made a mental note to self…remember the elementary rule of effective sign language communication: facial expressions! This is the tone…there is no need for voice. Facial expression is the voice of the conversation!
Now all that remains is to retrieve the dusting ASL books off my bookshelf and to dive in–looking up words, signing things I see during the day, getting a better right-hand movement in my fingerspelling. And I know the main reason in my not striving for this earlier at home–because it is embarrassing. The sound of that sentence is just ludicrous! It should not be, but it just is. I should think of it in terms such as going around the house, shouting the words at the top of my lungs…why is that any different from just a little sign? I am not certain. Maybe it is because we have never really signed much as a family, besides a few basic words and they can fingerspell. Maybe it just seems inconvenient to me…why sign to them when they can hear? I am not certain. But my family is taking the steps to try different signs to me…why not then sign to them or practice myself?
My sister signed/sang to me the “Happy birthday song” this year before I blew out my candle on the cake. At that moment, I thought it was so beautiful that I almost cried.
So today I added another motivation reminder: I love my family and desire to communicate better with them. Thus, I will strive to practice routinely. We are all in this together…even though I am the only one nearing Deafness.