Category Archives: ASL Ramblings

Lean Into Pain

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rk4eVPbKlLk

While I do not watch this TV show, I did run across this clip a few months ago, and it irritated me. It alerted me to the urgency of interpreting. It enticed me to think about how a potential job in ASL would provide a daily – even hourly – sense of purpose. I will not be behind a desk with my face fastened to a screen for 8 hours. I hope that if I do this, if I become an interpreter, I will be in constant need. I desire a purposeful job, as I want a purposeful life that honors and pleases Christ. Is this the correct path he wants me to honor him through walking on it? Perhaps —

“The LORD said to him, ‘Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say,’” Exodus 4:11-12.

“Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” -Psalms 90:17

“Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.” -Proverbs 31:31

In the simplest terms, I feel like God has been bothering me about hanging on to sign language. I compulsively think about it, it will badger me every time I am asked about the future, and…I think I want it. I think I want to study it more, at least for a while. I think maybe I can do real good in the world if I make it. And to start making it, I have to try.

Of course there doubts. I worry constantly about the decision I have somehow made. How much longer will I torture myself in school? How old will I be when I finally do enter the “real world”? How will the day-to-day look as I continue studying? Will I get stuck in my hometown for even longer than I thought? Will people (my age and my elders) think I am crazy for prolonging something that seemed to come out of nowhere, or pursuing something that appears to be a fad or a whim? These doubts, questions, fears, and potential regrets have kept me up for way too many nights. Grappling with them have left me faint, vulnerable, and highly self-conscious of my own desires.

You know what it reminds me of? The final lines of the 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives. Fred and Peggy finally come together, and as Peggy smiles in joy and relief, Fred gives her the honest truth, but with the tone of a strong work ethic and an understanding that it won’t be handed to him in his voice:

“You know what it’ll be, don’t you, Peggy? It may take us years to get anywhere. We’ll have no money, no decent place to live. We’ll have to work, get kicked around.”

This is the attitude I want with regard to the next phase of my life, the life that I mindfully choose. I want to lean into the struggle and upcoming hardship I know I will face. I have been told that interpreting can be lonely – and I think that is due to the isolation some have felt with regard to the Deaf community. I have also heard that interpreting is emotionally taxing, especially when having to sign to someone they have cancer, or have to interpret in a difficult situation. I want to lean into these things – I refuse to look at life for all the ways I can avoid pain. I don’t want to find the perfect, comfortable niche in the world. I want to find the place I belong, the place that was set for me.

Epiphany?

This wasn’t a waste of time because I went into college not wanting a particular job. I just wanted a degree. I wanted to study English. I didn’t even know if I wanted literature or creative writing. Then I got blessed with finding Classics as a second major. I would have never dreamed of leaving the institution with not one degree, but two.

And now?

I am still leaving college with what I came in for: a degree that I wanted, and educated in subjects that I loved.

And now?

I know what I want to do. Or at least try. And I am trying not to be sorry that I am only just getting around to finding out now. And I am still kicking myself for thinking about how old I’ll be when I finally am trained and ready to be an American Sign Language interpreter. Time passing scares me more than most things.

I remember hearing a story in the 8th grade about a group of young kids – probably my age – that had been read the Bible; they heard stories, heard the poetry, truth, parables etched in the book of God’s voice. They lived in a country that did not recognize that God, or the faith(s) associated with him, or the only Son that stood behind him. They lined each child up and punctured each eardrum with a set of chopsticks, because they had heard the word of the Lord. That was my first introduction to deafness. That was the first time I became consciously aware of what a lack of hearing is like. A soundless world, borne out of a hatred and lack of recognition of my God, my Father, my Savior.

I can already begin to look back and see the road I tripped all over, jumped off of, and yanked myself back onto. I can see God smiling, as I finally submit to his wishes. I see the furrow between his eyebrows as he concerns over just how doubtful I was about his plan, and about knowing his own daughter – her strengths, her weaknesses, her ideas about what she wanted and needed for her future.

I see him, silent, in the trees. I asked him why he wouldn’t speak. I wanted to know him, I wanted to see, and I wanted to say…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szp9x1ZlZn4

The above song is more deeply analyzed by Fr. Damian Ference, in a great article linked below:

https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/blog/twenty-one-pilots-masters-of-the-culture-of-encounter/2185/

“…just as God came to encounter us in the person of Jesus, so too must we go and share what we have received and encounter the world.”

“Twenty One Pilots close their set with ‘Trees,’ which embodies the mission of the band. The song is about finally building up the courage to come before God, but not knowing what to do or how to be: ‘I know where you stand/ Silent in the trees/ And that’s where I am/ Standing cowardly.’ Then the music shifts from a slow, frustrated lament to a big melodic, drawn-out burst of consolation: ‘I can feel your breath/ I can feel my death/ I want to know you/ I want to see you/ I want to say, hello.’ That’s it – ‘hello.'”

When I saw this band in January, they closed their set with the same haunting song – and that began this long ride on the fence between decisions – my fence was chain-link and after a long pause of clinging to its metal points and smooth bar, it caused me to numb what I felt about each side of the choice I could make.

I don’t want to be numb anymore – I need to let myself love what I have become fascinated by – just as English Literature did – just as Classical Civilizations did. I will start from the bottom again, with my nose in the dirt once again. But I don’t need the dignity or assurance a job straight out of the institution brings. I am not through with American Sign Language, because I have barely started. I am going to make the world better, and this is the road I have chosen – for now.

The Future…?

 

Coping kept coming onto stage, snapping its pallid fingers in her face, trying to get her to snap to. But snapping to was not something she had done in a while. It had been so long, her whole life – when you get down to it – where she had done what she was told. She did high school to get into college. She did those classes to impress faceless, voiceless people on the other end of acceptance, waitlist, defer, or rejection letters. She did college to get a better job. She dug deep to find the internship and sacrificed freedom to make herself better for this faceless, voiceless world.

 

And now there is space.

 

What now?

 

Where to?

 

Who even are you, without all of this?

 

Is that even a skill you can channel?

 

Is it really that simple?

 

Maybe.

 

But I doubt it.

 

I was wrenched this way, then that. I came upon a conclusion while washing my hair, but when I stepped out into the cold, drenched, I was back on the fence, clinging like the talons of an owl. The pros and cons I know like the ugly scar on my knee, and they come around every time I need to be refreshed as to why it would be great, but also a mistake. I only know for sure that I will refuse a desk-and-computer-8-hour-day. I can’t change the world that way, I know this for sure now. Besides, I want dirt under my fingernails, and constructive, meaningful discomfort at every turn.

 

Someone in Paris told me, “Never stop studying! Don’t enter the real world!”

 

My heart screamed a few days later, “Get out of the institution! Claim your freedom!”

 

I ignored it after that for a while, but it curled around my hand and crushed my knuckles and sneered, “Stop ignoring me, you worthlessly faltering, entitled twit.”

 

Nobody will do it for me.

 

I want many, not just one.

 

Is it really that simple? Convince me.

 

ASL influences in my life

I grew up watching the 1990s version of Miracle on 34th Street. It was one of those Christmas films that was not animated or stop –motion, and it had a deeper sense of Santa Clause as a person instead of just a character that says “Ho Ho Ho,” in a deep, jolly voice. When Kris Kringle is sitting in his chair meeting all the children that come to see him, there is one little girl that is placed on his knee who is deaf. Here is the clip:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMXk048h3XQ

I think this may have been my earliest memory of sign language. I remember another part of this film where it is revealed that Santa knows several other languages like Russian and Swahili; but the awareness of ASL was awakened in me at this very moment.

Jump to high school, my senior year. I was still seventeen when the school year began, and I walked into my math class on that first day. I despised (and still do, to this day) math, and I always shed my more happy and outgoing self when I had math class, and kept my head down and just did the work without stopping to look around. I noticed that there were three teachers in the classroom – a head teacher, a teacher’s aid, and a third one who didn’t seem to hold any particular position in the classroom. Odd, I thought. I sat near the front, and our first task for the class was to introduce each other to everyone else. I got paired with a boy who sat beside me, and we both wrote down things we liked and did for fun outside of school. We were asked to stand in front of the smart board and tell the class about the other person.

It was only then that I noticed that the third woman, who was standing between us and the TA, was an ASL interpreter. The teacher aid talked funny, when she did decide to use her voice. She had dark skin and thick glasses, I recall. The only signs I remember the interpreter using in this memory was the sign for boxing, because I had several student athletes as classmates. I also remember the open palms of the interpreter, her hands moving like a dance in the space in front of her.

Freshman year of college and I was in a big residence hall with all girls. One girl who lived below me thought it was astounding that I was taking Latin at Mary Washington to fulfill my language requirement. “That must be so hard!” she said. I asked her what she was taking, and she told me about this community college right down the road from us that offered sign language. I was intrigued. She told me the credits would transfer back into UMW if you chose to take ASL as your foreign language. I asked her how her class would do tests or quizzes, and she explained. I put that thought of sign language into my back pocket, and never really forgot about it.

This past summer, I began to look at all my classes that were left in order for me to finish my two degrees and graduate. I began making plans, and I found that I could finally act on this interest and take a sign language class. My schedule allowed me to have one “fun” class during this fall semester, and I signed up.

Funny thing was, this class wasn’t just fun for me. It became serious. I soaked in every sign we were taught, and I intently and religiously did my homework in order to nail down a new plank for the bridge I have begun to build. My biggest desire in this regard is to cross over and connect the world of hearing, the one I have always known, with the deaf one.

I have found myself looking up movies and TV shows that have signing in them, or wanting to find deaf communities that would help me learn and grow into this language through everyday practice. The major need I have right now, though, is someone who can answer questions. Questions, specifically, about interpreting. This is my new charge and path that has been placed under my feet.

I have never had a clear job position and/or title that I’d label my “dream job,” and it always felt like everyone around me had one in mind, or one that they always knew they’d want to pursue. It is only divine intervention that now, when I have uncovered something I really want to do, it happens to be when my college experience is coming to a close. I have been telling shocked friends and relatives about my apparently out-of-the-blue newfound interest, and how inconvenient it has been to “just now” find what I want to do. And yet, after some time of evaluation and reflection on this past semester and looking ahead, I have come to a new conclusion: College is about preparing for the future, and finding a passion and hopefully, for the lucky ones, a potential job they will bask in and love.

Sure, I wish I had made this discovery sooner, and been able to begin preparing for the rest of my life (at least my potentially professional life), but that is not how life works – at least that is what I have experienced. Of course people would love to have met their husband or wife sooner so that they would have that clear path and security about whom they will be spending the rest of their lives with. But not everyone is lucky enough to find his or her soul mate at a “convenient” time. I am one of these. There is no such thing as a convenient time – I know for experience.

I have no idea if what I want to happen will work out, and I need to find peace in that up-in-the-air space. I need to be okay with not having anything carved in stone, while also having the clarity and sense to take opportunities when doors are opened for me.

Tomorrow, Carrie and I will be driving home for a month of Christmas, New Years and birthday celebrations. I am excited to have leisure time to think about, pray and continue discovering where I want to go, as well as where I am called to be.

 

With love and a joyful noise,

 

Alice