Tuesday, June 06, 2017

The signing stranger

Because I am deaf, I usually don’t participate in social activities. Of course, I also decline these invitations because I have social anxiety. By nature, I’m a loner. I don’t like being in crowds. Being surrounded by people I don’t know. I prefer to be alone. So I don’t really socialize with people. Or communicate with people. When I am out and about, I say hello to familiar faces. I nod in recognition of others who reach out to me. But I am not attempting to be social with people. I don’t seek new friendships or to commiserate with people.

My son, however, is another story. He does like to talk to people. And while I tolerate communicating with people HE knows through his school, anybody else is pretty much off of my radar.

See, I have had years of experience of people tuning me out because of my deafness. With many, many people, they stop talking to me, or trying to communicate with me, once they learn I am deaf. They pretty much start talking to someone who is with me who can hear. And I am forgotten about.

For this reason, I don’t even TRY to talk to people anymore. I have shut people out. I am not a part of the hearing world and I probably never will be.

And after almost 12 years of living in Oregon, I have had enough exposure to people to know there are not many deaf or hard-of-hearing people in my area. And I know very few who can sign.

And it’s always a surprise when I meet someone who can sign. It’s very rare, but it happens.

It happened not too long ago when I met a Facebook friend IRL (she lives in the neighborhood). And it happened again today.

After Jesse’s gymnastics class was over, I took him to the nearby Dari Mart. I usually do this after his gymnastics class. It’s his weekly treat. Well, while we were there, I noticed Jesse getting into a conversation with someone. I figured this was a person who volunteers at his school, because we often run into such people there, so I didn’t really pay much mind to it. I did, however, keep Jesse close, and kept a watchful eye on him. Not so much on the person he was talking to.

But the person he was talking to was trying to get my attention. Finally, I looked at him, ready with the whole “I’m deaf” announcement and the typical response from him of ignoring me. But when I looked at him and nodded my hello, I was surprised to notice something: He was SIGNING!

What? Had my ignoring him tipped him off that I am deaf? Did it tell him that I had no clue what anybody was saying and therefore didn’t bother to try to keep up?

Whatever it was, he somehow knew I was deaf. I was really surprised that he knew how to sign. All of a sudden, I was interested in communicating with this person. In TALKING with this person. This person knew my language!

This person introduced himself as Erik and he said he knew how to sign because he has a daughter who is deaf. (Where IS this daughter?? How come I haven’t seen her??) Then he talked about his father, grandfather, his son and grandson. I was really intrigued. It was no nice to be able to communicate with someone who I could understand. He was a very nice person, very communicative and knowledgeable in ASL, and very friendly. And as he was leaving, he signed “I love you” to us and then he turned and was gone.

This whole experience made me smile. And it made me think: Maybe I shouldn’t shut out people so much. I always expect the worst. I always expect a person to not care, not want to communicate or anything. But this experience right here was a pleasant eye-opener. It made me realize that maybe I should give people a chance. Who knows? There might be someone out there who can sign – and who actually wants to communicate with me in a way that I can understand.

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