Ok, so I’m a proud guy. I come from a proud family. I come from a family that expects very little, other than to work hard and be human. My family, on both sides, come from a long line of respectful people. I said “respectful” people, not “perfect” people. Is anyone in my family infallible? Fu*k no. Not even close. Our name is not adorned on the walls of the White House and we have no libraries which display the family crest. However, we strive to wake up with a sense of purpose every morning, and we attempt to be contributing members of society. There are different levels of society, but that has never been the focus of my family. Whenever there is a family gathering, there is only one society recognized, and that is the society which is at that gathering. We are a family that fights, and argues, and bickers. And when the shit hits the fan, we are a family that comes together, pools our resources, and walks proudly towards whatever obstacle is in our way. We are exactly who we are, and we make no excuses for one another. The knob and the hinges on the door to my family’s dining room table have never been contingent upon sexual preference, income, political bias, skin color, handicap, or religious beliefs (or lack thereof). We are a people who speak our mind, but respect the mind’s of others. Do we do this perfectly? (There is not a nuclear “F” Bomb which could strongly enough emphasize my “NO”). I, at one time or the other, have slammed every door in every house in the face of every member of my family. I have raged, and I have argued, and I have fought. However, I have apologized, and all of those doors have been open again. Those doors remain open, because people in my family are imperfect, and they accept imperfection. This is what makes my people so perfect in my eyes. We are all exactly they way that we should be. Nothing is more right or wrong with each of us than the other. Everything is as it should be.

Coming from a proud family background, I have a fondness for proud people (proud…not arrogant. Big difference). Monday night, Amanda and I had our last sign language class to complete our Level 1 ASL training. Now, I have gone on and on about my fondness for our teacher, Sheila, but our final class would not be taught by Sheila. We had the privilege of having Sheila’s daughter Summer, who is hearing, to come and speak (while signing) to the class about not only deaf culture, but what it was like growing up with a deaf mother. I was really excited about the opportunity to hear of her experiences, as well as to have the opportunity to ask some of the questions which I have had swirling around my brain. I had no way of knowing what to expect would come from the talk, but I did not expect to experience the sort of raw emotion, or to be delivered quite such the powerful message. It was about an hour and 20 minutes long….and I wish it would have lasted a weekend.

Summer began speaking with a little bit of background on herself. She wanted us to know her family dynamics and a little bit about her day-to-day life. Like Sheila, Summer is a highly intelligent individual with an attractive smile and pleasant demeanor. After providing us a very brief synopsis of her life, she cut straight to the thick of it. She made perfectly clear, “English is my second language.” She passionately informed us, that even with all of her education (Summer has a Masters Degree), she is more proficient in ASL than spoken english. She cautioned that when she gets angry or excited, the pronounced words will get jumbled long before she skips a beat on her hand signs.  Summer wanted us to understand that her first language was sign language, and she also spoke english. Summer was proud of her language, and she was proud of the community in which she was raised. She gave us a lot of interesting information about the deaf community and how one should conduct themselves in their presence. The deaf culture is really fascinating and there is very, very much that the hearing world could stand to learn from them.

Of all the interesting things that Summer had to share with us, I will tell you what I found to be the most profound. As Summer was speaking to us, her bright blue eyes and her welcoming smile drew to an intensely sharp focus, as if she NEEDED us to understand at least this one thing. This is what she said:

“There has never been a time, not one, with the exception of needing toilet paper while I was in the restroom, when I have wished that my mom could hear.”

I’m gonna repeat that, because I get chill bumps just writing it.

“There has never been a time, not one, with the exception of needing toilet paper while I was in the restroom, when I have wished that my mom could hear.”

Summer loves her mother as her mother, plain and simple. There are no asterisks, there are no explanations. Sheila is Summer’s mother, not her deaf mother, and there is no handicap. I WAS ON FIRE AT THIS POINT. I could feel the hair standing up on my arms, and I wanted to hear more. Summer spoke of the times when her friends would ask, “what is it like to have a deaf mother?”, and she would respond with, “I don’t know. What is it like to have a hearing mother?”. Summer went through some of the things that made her life a little different, but it was all very matter-of-factly, nothing was described as being more difficult, only different. She gave us some descriptions of habits that she has learned which carry on to the hearing world. Summer, in a most humorous tone, told us that she has a tendency to make the world aware each and every time that she is going to the restroom. This is a habit which stems from having a deaf loved one. She explained that all of her life, she needs to know where her mom is at all times, and vice versa. If they get separated, it is not as easy to find one another, as it is hearing people. She also explained that “closed caption” remains on her television at ALL TIMES. This was something that she took very seriously, and described that it was also something that past boyfriends have sometimes had a problem with….on their way out the door (bye Felicia).  Summer wants her house to be open and comfortable as if her mom could walk in at anytime, and she wants Sheila to “fit” in her world. Isn’t that what any of us want, just to “fit” a little more comfortably in the world in which we live?

I don’t know if what I took from Summer’s talk was what she intended, and I don’t know if it matters. What I do know is that it was powerful. The message that I received was that within the confines of Summer’s world, as well as Sheila’s, all was perfect. There was no pity, no handicap. There was nothing lacking, and no want for circumstances to be different. There was no feeling sorry for themselves, or even a sense of entitlement for a sensory luxury that was lacking in the family. I perceived there to be a sense of peace and acceptance that came with being raised in a deaf home. From the outside looking in, I saw a family that was appreciative of the cards that they had been dealt and had made the most of their lives. They didn’t allow society to determine what was “good” or “bad”, or “right” and “wrong”, or “normal” or “handicap”. They understand that there are benefits and drawbacks to every situation, and the same goes for people. It was as if the only reason that Summer could not realize that her mom’s lack of hearing was a difficulty…was because it was NOT a difficulty. It was part of life. It was part of a life which is no more or less beautiful than the one that is filled with both the pleasantries of everyday hearing, as well as the harshness and ugliness that often accompanies the sounds of the world. My hat is off to you Summer, and Sheila, you are wonderful. I look forward to continuing my journey into ASL, and I thank the members of the deaf community for allowing me to look around and learn.

Peace, Love, and all things Beef related,

Beefcake

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