Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sign Language

*Another reflection on our trip to Antigua in 2004.

Little things you notice:
            Three different times, as I walked past the church called La Merced, I saw a man cross himself as he passed in the other direction. This was not the same man, mind you, but three different men, and one time, the man I saw was riding a bike as he crossed himself. It was a small motion, private.
            On another evening, the son of our dueña came to visit. He wanted to introduce his nine-year-old daughter to us, and he called her to him with an outstretched hand. If it had been me, I would have cupped my hand upward, ready to catch rain perhaps, or a gift. But he was Guatemalan, so he called her with his hand cupped down as his fingers motioned. His hand was the perfect shape to curve gently over her head.
            Then on the plane ride home, we chanced to sit next to one of our former students. This really happened. Eric had been in my literature class last year, and Mark’s homeroom class his freshman year. Eric should have graduated last month, but somewhere between the lit class and graduation he dropped out, and completed a G.E.D. instead. This plane ride was his first one ever, and he watched the landscape below his window with wide eyes. We chatted, and he told us of a summer visit to his mother, where she is a student at Gallaudet University, the university for deaf people. He was a coda he said, and he must have seen the question in my eyes, because he explained that CODA means “child of a deaf adult.”   He told us about working at Gallaudet, as a counselor at their summer camp for deaf children and codas, the challenges and the rewards he experienced. “You just fall in love with the kids,” he said, and his eyes glowed.
Now this is where your heart breaks, because this kid didn’t do well in high school, but he’s obviously bright and eager, and you wonder where the system let him down. Here he is, bilingual in ASL and English, loving working with kids, and yet he doesn’t know what he wants to do in the future. I didn’t know any of this when he was in my classroom last year; I only knew of his interest in skateboarding. I enter my classroom with the intention of being an insightful, caring, helpful adult in the lives of my students. How could I have missed so much?  Eric tells us a funny story about checking in at the airline counter in Baltimore. He had been waiting in line with his mother and her boyfriend, conversing in sign with them both. When it was his turn at the ticket counter, the agent had called in a sign interpreter to help, not realizing that Eric could also hear and speak. He chuckles again over the humor of the moment, and the flight attendant stops by to offer us soft drinks. As Eric accepts his cup, he thanks her, and out of the corner of my eye I notice his hand flick away from his chest, thumb extended, saying thank you twice.

A few small signs, caught with peripheral vision. Who can count the signs I miss every day?

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