"Just because they don't talk to you doesn't mean you don't talk to them ..."
I've said this a thousand times as part of one of the stories I tell in the 'Communication' workshop I do for staff and parents of people with disabilities. Most often I'm preaching to the converted but sometimes I speak with someone who just doesn't understand why it's necessary to speak to those who can't respond. It's an odd question, I'll grant, but I spend time talking with them and trying to get them to understand why it's important.
I've always understood it's important.
Until Wednesday when I really got it, down deep.
I was picked up by a huge van that had a lift attached that was capable of lifting me in my wheelchair up and into the interior of the van. Very cool. Somewhat scary. Kinda fun. The driver was a big burly guy who was very effecient in strapping first my wheelchair to the van and then me into the chair. I felt quite bound and a tad claustrophobic. Once in we were off.
Traffic was very heavy and we were taking all sorts of back roads and side roads. It was taking much longer than I expected. The van driver caught me looking at my watch and then looking up worried. He started to talk.
What an accent.
I may have understood one word in six or seven. For awhile I knew he was talking sports because I could get the word 'football'. Then I knew he was talking about the docks because he pointed at them as we drove by ... but the content of his chatter evaded me. I looked at Joe thinking maybe he caught some of what he said. Joe just shook his head.
Even so, I tried. When I got something, I made a remark on topic and faired fairly well. All the concentration on the chatter had me distracted and relaxed by the time we arrived at the studio.
As the van drove away I commented to Joe that I understood little of what he said.
Joe said, "Yeah, but you could tell he was a really good guy."
He was right.
There was something about how he spoke, in his voice, that communicated something much more than words. It was the sense of the man. The sense of who he was as a guy. He was someone you could be strapped in a van with and feel completely safe. He was someone that would get you to where you were going the best way he could. He was on my side.
He knew that I had trouble understanding him but he didn't let that stop him from trying.
And because he tried, I learned what I needed to know about him.
That he was OK.
And because he was OK.
So was I.