Silence can be beautiful to watch

Saturday, December 9, 2017

By Rob Oxford aka Rockfish

When I was in 8th Grade I learned The American Manual Alphabet. These are the 26 hand gestures that allow one to "finger spell" and speak, albeit very slowly, to a person who is deaf or hard of hearing.

For some reason, of all the information that was crammed into my tiny skull during those adolescent years, I've been able to recall the entire ASL Alphabet with only a few exceptions. So when my son came home and told me he had joined a "club" at school that would be learning sign language I was thrilled. I immediately proceeded to show off my talents as a "signer", but in typical fashion he was not impressed.

I have always been fascinated with those who either out of love, necessity or curiosity, develop this skill. I recall coming home from school myself with much pride and the knowledge that I finally knew something my parents did not.

During my tenure as a morning radio host, each year we would broadcast from a local business during the holidays, usually to encourage listeners to come by and donate toys for "the tots" or to collect food for a local food bank.

On one particular morning while standing in the freezing rain pretending to be "enthused", I noticed a young man standing much too close to the P.A. speakers. He was slowly nodding his head. When the Producer in the studio cut back to us "live on the street", I made some remark about the gentlemen who appeared to be a "real fan of the music we were playing" before continuing on with the broadcast segment.

After the stopset (the term for a commercial break) was over, his mother came up to me and told me he was deaf and that he enjoyed feeling the vibrations coming out of the speakers. She also told me that he was quite the dancer.

At first I was slightly embarrassed, but then how was I to know he couldn't hear? For one, he was at a remote radio broadcast and two, I'd witnessed precisely the same type of thing at rock concerts many times in the past. However, these were most often fans of the band who, if they hadn't already lost their hearing, would most likely be losing it at least temporarily, very soon. Not to mention most of them were also horrible dancers.

On a whim, I went up to the young man and began spelling with my fingers..."M-Y...N-A-M-E...I-S...R-O-C-K-F-S-H". The delight in his eyes was immediate and overwhelming. I could tell the mere fact that I was attempting to converse with him in "his" language was very special. Not only to him, but to me as well. I excused myself for a moment and went behind the radio station van to wipe a tear from my eye.

A similar incident took place this past football season when at our Team Banquet, I noticed two of our outstanding young athletes translating their Coach's speech for their mother. I had known she was deaf and had heard many stories of how these fine young men, among other things, helped support her by taking care of their younger sister. Something inside told me I needed to make her feel welcome and a part of our football family. So I sat down next to them and told her eldest son that I was fascinated by sign language and knew the "alphabet". He smiled awkwardly and shared my words with his mother. It wasn't much of a conversation, but I hoped it made them both feel more comfortable.

You'll come to find out, the more you read my articles, that I'm not very shy.

Since that day I've attempted to make similar contact with strangers whom I see signing. Granted, not always with the same results, but nonetheless gratifying to a certain extent. I'm not sure if I want to be appreciated for my efforts in trying to communicate with them or if I'm just showing off. My Therapist would know for sure... (I don't really have a therapist). But I know that all too often we take for granted the blessings that have been bestowed upon us. Whether we chose to believe they are gifts from God or Nature, our senses, especially sight and sound, are incredibly precious.

There is much more to learning sign language than just memorizing signs. ASL has its own grammar, culture, history, terminology and it takes time and effort to become a "skilled language user." I have always enjoyed observing the deaf speak with their hands.

I try to disguise my obvious curiosity and depending on the situation will sometimes embarrass myself by trying to say a few words. I'm not sure if this is perceived as annoying or a welcomed act, but I do know that silence can be a beautiful thing to watch.


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