Friday, May 25, 2007

The Bird

It was fun and a real break from the drive. The temperature soared past 30 degrees and we had the windows down both to save gas and to feel the wind on our skin. The trip had gone well and until the traffic slowed to a stop in Montreal approaching the Champlain bridge, we had made good time. But now time crawled slower than we did. The heat radiated of the pavement and off each and every car. I distracted myself by fingerspelling words on trucks and keeping my memory limber for numbers by doing the occasional license plate.

A van pulled up next to us and a teen boy, at the gawky age, wave at me and signed to me, "Are you deaf?" I looked up startled that he was signing at me and then he made the sign for fingerspelling. My God, I thought, he'd noticed me passing time practicing. I signed, 'No, you?"

Then he was off, way too fast, way too many signs I don't know. I had learned sign when working on a deaf ward in a large institution. I learned 'exact english' rather than 'american sign' and thus am left in the dust when trying to read or communicate with the deaf world. That and the fact that I haven't used sign in a long time and I was outclassed by this kid.

I tried to remember, 'slow down' and tried it out. It worked.

"No, not deaf." I'm sure that's what he said. Then he was gone. His lane sped up and I was sitting frustrated. Joe noticed my frustration and said, "I'll try to catch up." Well that was nice of him but this was out of his control. But a few minutes later we pulled up by the van again. He pointed at the woman in the front passenger seat and signed, slowly, 'Mom, deaf."

"OK, I understand," I signed. "You sign good." (I told you my sign is limited.)

"Thanks," he signed, "I like sign."

"Me, too," I said as this time we pulled ahead.

As we got to the bridge we were beside them again, this time the whole family waved. I guessed that the kid had told mom and dad about the conversation he was having with this big stranger in a car in the other lane.

I looked at all the others in other cars, all insular, unable to communicate to someone a car lane away. And here we were signing and spelling as we drove across the bridge.

We waved as we pulled away and they waved back. The time had passed quickly and we were all smiling while the others looked bored. I felt sorry for them. But just then a car swerved and cut off the van and scared everyone in every lane. Now there was a profusion of signs - from every car. Forget ASL, there is a universal sign for ... "you are driving badly" ... and it involves tossing a pidgeon or flipping the bird or something such.

A moment where sign ruled and communication was immediate and urgent.

Integration and inclusion - I`ll take them however they happen.


Belinda said...

Wow, what an amazing and serendipitous story!

I wonder what he would think if he knew "who" the "big stranger" was...and that he, himself was going to be read about today? :)

I love the connections God puts in your path--or your highway--and the fact that you don't seem to miss any of them.

n. said...

i have had (with my also very elementary ASL) at least one conversation with Deaf strangers in another car. it's cool.

Anonymous said...

I'm deaf I've been signing since age 3, 34 years ago (so now you know how old I am ;-) ) and cannot recall ever having a conversation with people in another car. Then again, since I went off to college, I haven't really been in cars much because I don't drive, so most of my opportunities would have been when I was growing up, including when I was possibly too young to remember. Hmm, I'll have to ask my parents if they remember anything!

All 4 My Gals said...

LOL. I challenged 2 little girls in my daughter's class today to learn ASL over the summer so that they could communicate across the room instead of trying to dramatically read each other's lips. T started signing when she was a baby and we have dropped it off since her speech has gotten better, but she'll revert to it when she is not being understood, and if she doesn't know the signs she'll do a great pantomine. :)