Every so often in life we’re given a window thru which to see a glimpse of ourselves the way other people see us. For an introvert, this can be a powerful thing. We’re not born performers and most of the out of the ordinary things we do or accomplish aren’t noticed by the masses. Most of the time I’m ok with that. I prefer to be a strong gear keeping things running under the watch face and let other people do the bright and colorful and fancy. But, there are a few areas of my life, passions I hold and tend to ignore, that surface now and then and when they do I feel whole and happy and ready to take on the world.
One of these passions is sign language.
I learned a song in children’s choir when I was about eight. I remember my teacher well because she was left handed and she made the perfect mirror for the majority of us who were right handed. We learned a simple song and from that day on, I was hooked. I remember wishing every Sunday that my parents would sit near the interpreter during services because then I could listen to and watch the sermon and I thought it would be a fabulous way to learn more sign. Turns out the gal signed way too fast for me to keep up, but still, I wanted to watch. A few years later I met my mom’s cousin and her daughter who was born deaf. Her parents and grandparents signed to her and I knew, if only to be able to talk to Laura, I wanted to learn sign.
Fast forward to high school and I got my chance. I took two semesters of sign in our homeschool enrichment classes. Our teachers were professional interpreters and they crammed crazy amounts of fun and education into our hours of class each week. Some weeks we’d have silent class and we would spend the whole time trying to converse with one another in sign. Boy was that crazy! The problem? Graduation. After I finished school and no longer met with the group I had no one to sign with. I continued to sign every song I knew, sometimes even performing in sign while singing at church. Eventually I taught our youth group to sign and we performed at several area churches. Later on I taught at a children’s ministry our church sponsored in a low income housing development. Every week I looked forward to worship time cause the kids and I would get to sign together.
After I got married and moved away it was a little while before I again found myself teaching kids to sign. This time, in a classroom setting. Because it had been years since I’d learned anything new or had a conversation with a deaf person and because I didn’t feel qualified I bought a DVD program and I supplemented that with the knowledge of the deaf community that I had learned years ago. We had a great time and I even learned some new signs. But, life happens and after a semester of classes I had other things to do.
This fall I’m back, assisting in another class where the teacher is using the same DVD program and I’m teaching the kids to sign a song. It’s my favorite part of the week every single week and I realized today that I can’t imagine myself ever not signing. Its as much a part of me as music and breathing.
The Silent Scream
And that window I was talking about? A few years ago I met a local deaf couple. They became regulars at the coffee shop where I worked and I got to practice my conversational sign a lot. One week they brought a friend with them. This man was deaf, but had lost his hearing recently, so he was able to not only speak, but lip read. When I met him I had no idea he was deaf. He saw me converse with the deaf couple and pulled me aside. He said he had never seen someone so fluent in sign language. I figured he must be joking because I struggle to complete a sentence, let alone carry on a conversation. I asked for clarification and he said “No, it’s not about the signs. It’s your face and your body language. Some people are gifted, and you’re one of them.” Small window. Big ah-ha moment.
Today I got another peek inside when I finished demonstrating for the students half the song without body language, facial expression or emotion, and the second half full-on expressive. They were mesmerized by the beauty of sign and the power of expression. Yes, personally I find signing very expressive. But, to see their reaction? They got it. They picked up on the emotions I was feeling and portraying and it made everything we’ve been teaching them so much more real. And I realized, this is me. This is what I do well. This is what I love.
I feel like I’ve spent years knowing I enjoy sign, maybe even love it, but I haven’t felt like I’m good at it. Others have seen it clear as day, like I’m screaming from the rooftops, but for me, it’s a silent scream I’ve just learned to interpret.
What passions and talents do you have that the people around you see clearly but you discount as a mere hobby or something you can do but aren’t good at?