The following story is taken largely from an email that I sent to friends and loved ones when first dealing with my hearing loss. Here goes:
I knew nothing about American Sign Language (ASL) when my hearing problems first started. My indifference did not stop a dear friend from taking the initiative to begin learning ASL on her own. This friend also happens to be a third grade teacher at a great school district in Bucks County. So she began her proactive quest to learn a little sign language, including sharing her new found skills with her 8-year-old students. The children also seemed to take to it with some enthusiasm. The teacher explained to her students that she had a friend (me) who recently suffered sudden hearing loss and that’s why she wanted to learn sign.
[bquote_right]The teacher explained to her students that she had a friend (me) who recently suffered sudden hearing loss and that’s why she wanted to learn sign.[/bquote_right]
The last 10 minutes of class each day were thus dedicated to the teacher reading a story and signing it to the kids. It turns out that ASL exercises of this sort are embraced by many committed grade school teachers to supplement and advance general language, reading and vocabulary skills. Who would have thought?! Not me. At first, I had no knowledge or interest in any of this. I think I was still too cynical and beat up about my hearing loss to even think about it. So it took me a while to accept that ASL was a good idea. Apparently there are 23 little angels in Bucks County Pennsylvania who figured that out way before I did. A week ago I knew nothing about them. Today, I met them. And now they own my heart and I will never forget them.
I don’t know exactly what my teacher-friend ever told these kids. I was told only that they knew about my hearing problems and wanted to meet me. So this morning I walked into a strange classroom and sat down eye to eye with a bunch of little 8-year-old kids who I never knew existed. Unbeknownst to me, the children had been preparing for this for months. I had no idea. The teacher later told me that it was big thing for the children when I walked into the classroom. Little did I know that it would be a far bigger thing for me.
[bquote]The teacher later told me that it was big thing for the children when I walked into the classroom. Little did I know that it would be a far bigger thing for me.[/bquote]
First, we went around the room as each child took turns asking me questions, by signing them to me. They were all prepared with great questions and showed obvious pride that they knew how to sign them. I signed back the answers as best I could. They asked me what my favorite movie was, favorite animal, favorite food and favorite ASL sign. They asked me how I watched TV and how I used a phone. They asked me if I liked baseball more on TV or live at the ball park. They asked if I had a pet and, which did I like more–cats or dogs? They asked about my children and wanted to know their names and ages. They wanted to know if I was left handed or right handed. They asked me where I lived and where I worked. They asked if liked pizza, big cookies and chocolate ice cream (yes, yes yes!). I was able to answer most of their questions and use the little sign I knew to have a great conversation with each of them. The kids also taught me new words that I haven’t learned yet. And their eyes lit up when I told them that they were teaching me.
[bquote]And their eyes lit up when I told them that they were teaching me. [/bquote]
And then the children gave me a gift. It’s a photo-book on sign language that they made. One boy proudly explained how he drew the crayon book cover. Inside there were pictures of each child, demonstrating different ASL signs. The words for each sign were placed beneath the beautiful, carefully staged pictures (complete with directional markers to show the correct hand motion). It was an alphabet book with brief explanations and factoids about ASL (you could tell the teacher wrote that part!). The children were eagerly watching me as I looked at the book– they had worked hard on it. I was speechless. Choking back tears, I told them (and signed) that I loved it. They obviously approved that I approved!
[bquote_right]I was speechless. Choking back tears, I told them (and signed) that I loved it. They obviously approved that I approved! [/bquote_right]
I sat down in the “reading chair” and all of the children sat on the floor around me as I read each page from A to Z, showing them their own pictures; they were obviously proud of themselves. Then each stood up as I referred to their picture and demonstrated their sign “live”. As I watched these beautiful little people do all this I felt a joy flow through me that’s hard to describe. I don’t think I have ever had a better time in my entire life. As I finished the book, they all “clapped” in ASL (by raising their arms high over their heads and excitingly shaking their hands). Then they had a chance to to ask me any other questions– there were many and I was so glad.
When I finally said goodbye to my new friends they all waved enthusiastically. I signed “thank you” and in unison, they signed “thank you” too. So today, 8-year-old angels taught me ASL– a new language of love and profound expression that they learned for me, before I learned it for myself. And I have a new text book to prove it. It’s a masterpiece of inspirational literature sung through the precious hands of children. When kids inspire, they don’t mess around.