She turned toward me. She cupped her hands, flipped them forward, then pointed straight at me. I blinked once, or maybe twice, trying to remember. My eyes widened, my fingers twitched, trying to decipher. How could I possibly remember so many motions and gestures? I examined her arms, hands, and fingers. It was all- important; that I knew. I watched her face for guidance. She smiled back at me, perhaps for reassurance. She’d once told me that facial expressions were just as important as the signs themselves. After all, this language did not have the benefit of countless different pitches and tones, excessively used to convey one’s enthusiasm or ennui. My mouth was dry; my arms felt stiff. I awkwardly lifted my pinky, brushed my chin with my thumb, and mouthed the word ‘thank you’ as my hand descended, in a forward motion, from my mouth to my chest.
It had not been a spontaneous decision. I had been longing for this opportunity since my childhood. I knew the height of the challenge when I had gone into class that first day. Of course, I, along with the other students, had been asked not to speak for the entire class. Silence ruled in the room. The entirety of the process fascinated me. This was more than learning another Latin-based language. I had already learned la langue de Voltaire and la lengua romance. This was different. Never before had I been asked to depend solely on my sight to decipher and interpret the gestures and facial expressions made by a sign language teacher. I must admit, that in the beginning, it was rather overwhelming and nerve wracking to completely rely on my sight to communicate with others. Yet, as the classes went on, my mouth grew accustomed to remaining shut and my eyes could fluidly decode the basics of this cryptic language.
As I allowed my eyes to glance around the room, I began to notice things that had seemed unimportant to me when coming in. I saw the flowers in the vase on the table adjacent to mine. I saw the glossy colored wallpaper, the historic photographs, her washed out blue jeans and her lavender shirt. I saw the antique clock with its hands programmed to turn until the batteries ran out. The more I looked, the more I saw, and the more I saw the more I realized what could be seen. This language had opened my mind. It felt as though a void in my brain had been filled with invaluable knowledge. What was the next step? I had gone into this experience with a book, curiosity and a desire to learn something uniquely different. Now that the year was over, I began to wonder about how I could utilize this newly acquired treasure. I thought about my first class; my eyes had been hopelessly lost in the teacher’s rhythmic gestures. In school, we learn Spanish, French and German in order to interact with communities from all over the world, but we do nothing to communicate with the 70 million people considered deaf or hard of hearing. There is only silence. Therefore, I thought: Why not teach sign language in schools? Personally, I regret not having been sensitized earlier, by having, for example, this language as an option in my middle school or high school. It is paramount to take into consideration the linguistic and social reality of deaf and hard of hearing individuals. I believe that it is imperative to stop seeing deafness as a disability. This year, as I plan to take the class again, I hope to learn more and, hopefully, play a role in bridging the gap between two cultures: hearing and deaf.