LIVING in my own comfort zone, I never bother to venture the other realms. I thought I have everything that I need, right here, right now. It’s true we don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone, but it’s even truer that we don’t know what we’ve been missing until it arrives.
Walking into a lecture one afternoon shifted my life around. The lecturer was a lady in her 40s, wearing a red coat, red boots, and a matching red bag. She was quite into fashion, I reckoned, but that was not the main point.
She was signing.
I could see her mouth moving but there was no sound. I could see her facial expression – so vivid, so clear, but I could not understand what she was saying. Was it a happy expression? Was it a confused one? Was it a sad one? What was she trying to convey?
She mouthed what looked like, “Hello, everyone,” but I just couldn’t catch her lips.
She was Deaf, and she was signing.
Two minutes passed but it felt like hours. No one was talking. No one was moving. We focused all our attention towards the lady, but our minds drifting away. We were out of place; we couldn’t communicate; we were lost.
The interpreter then started to translate her language. This time it was English, and everyone sighed in relief.
“My goodness, I just realised that I hadn’t have any voiceover for me,” the interpreter said, translating the signing. “Now, I had a question for you. When I started to sign, and there was no voiceover, how did that feel?”
Mesmerised by the question, I was reflecting back on my own feelings. Was I afraid? Did I feel lost? Was I frustrated for not understanding?
“Now I realise why you guys weren’t responding – because you couldn’t understand. Because you try to communicate, but there was no response,” said the interpreter.
Looking back, I realised that I was born in a perfect family. My parents love me, my friends like me, and money was never a big issue for our family of five. I have all my five senses working, with no defects. I have what they call a ‘normal’ childhood.
But then, sitting there with another 150 confused students, I found out that there was much more to life than just this.
“I have experienced your feelings, growing up,” said the lecturer. “I’m from a hearing family, and I have two brothers who are Deaf. I’m probably one of 90% of Deaf children who are born to hearing families.”
It made sense that Deaf parents may have Deaf children, but I was taken aback when actually 90% of them are born from hearing families.
“I was born partially Deaf, and by the age of nine, I was profoundly Deaf,” she continued. “I was the only Deaf child in a hearing school.”
I thought being ‘different’ in school as a nerdy, a weirdo, or a freak is traumatic enough. Yet this is much more than I expected.
She went on talking about her background, her community, and her culture. For the first time ever, I found no one was texting in class, no one was Facebooking, no one was talking, and no one was sleeping. Even to take notes, there were only a few of them. We, simply, just looked at her flawless signing.
She touched her cheeks; she touched her arms; she made a circular gesture right in front of her face. Her fingers did some basic number gestures, then combined with a thousand moves that I had not seen before. Yet they were all connected – it was as if she could paint using the air.
What a beautiful language.
“Deaf people have been taught to speak – to be able to fit into the hearing community,”
she said. “And I agree to certain point that Deaf people need to do those things.
“But what’s forgotten is that those people are still Deaf in the end. They may have an implant; they may have hearing aids; they may be profoundly Deaf; they may be partially Deaf. Yet in the end, they all struggle to fit in the hearing world.”
Suddenly I remember a quote that says, ‘you spend your whole life trying to fit in, and when you finally do, you realise that you are surrounded by the very people who held you down.‘
“Deaf people don’t see themselves as someone with disability. We don’t see ourselves as someone needed to be fixed. We see ourselves as social beings that can fit in the Deaf community, and other community,” she said.
After the end of the lecture, I found out the first thing that I should have known.
Her name was Cathy Clark. She was Deaf, yet she heard, and she spoke.
She was just doing it in another language of love.