As of last night, Amanda and I have successfully completed one half of our 12 week journey into learning American Sign Language (ASL). As always, I was a jar of nerves, but I made it through alive. The material is presented in such an organized fashion that I should have faith more faith in the teachers ability to provide instruction in a way that I will be able to grasp it. It is a 2 hour class, and most classes thus far have seemingly been a full out frontal attack during the first hour. Just when I think that my brain simply cannot process another byte of data, it is break time and we slow down, interact, and maybe play a game or something. With the passing of each class, I feel myself just a bit more comfortable than the week before, I always learn a little something about ASL, but I learn quite a bit more about myself and the world around me. I learn all of this with the help of our teacher, Sheila, whom I want to tell you a little bit about. Sheila is a very pretty lady with a contagious smile. She laughs at herself and with the class. She is methodical in her instruction, and will not let you off the hook easily. If you make a mistake, she puts her fingers to her palms to signal “again”. If you don’t get it the second time, “again”, and third “again”. Often times the class will take a moment to laugh with the struggling person, and Shelia will join in momentarily. As soon as you think that the laughter has provided enough distraction to let you off the hook, Sheila will straighten up, refocus, and put those fingers back in the palm….”again”. Dammit, “again”. This will go on until the individual gets it right, no one is immune.
I find myself being frustrated in the fact that I cannot communicate readily with Sheila. I have so much I want to share with her, and so many things I want to know about her. I can tell by her eyes, and her smile that she is a warm, caring, and fun person who I think I would enjoy getting to know. I am frustrated when I leave, as I just want to tell her that I enjoyed the class, and I am frustrated when I arrive, as I want to tell her that I am anxious, and I am frustrated at break time, as I just want to learn a little bit about her. It’s crazy how easily I get frustrated and bent out of shape about this. Sometimes I honestly think, “I wish she could just talk to me for a little while, even though the rules are that we are supposed to only use signs.” Then it occurs to me, that this is not an option for her. This is not some fu*king game of charades that she is playing, this is the reality that Sheila faces every single day, with every fu*king person she comes into contact. And I’m the one getting frustrated?!! I watch Sheila. I watch how she gracefully rolls through her reality with an attitude that is solid gold. As I am a very insecure person, whenever I hear laughter which I am not directly involved, I assume that people are laughing at me. I turn red, and I begin a silent investigation as to what they are laughing at. “What’s so damn funny?”, “what did I do?”, “WHAT?”. I pay attention to the times during the class when someone does something to evoke laughter where you had to hear it to appreciate it. Each and every time the class laughs and Sheila is not involved, I feel this burning need to explain to her exactly what happened, so that she doesn’t feel like anyone is laughing at her. It does not seem to phase her in the least, as I feel that she is probably more in touch with the universe, and has a better grasp on reality than I ever will. At least, she certainly appears to have it all together. I compare her acceptance with her existence with my frustration at all the little things which I consider “inconveniences”. I think Sheila has a lot to offer.
Just last night during the class there was a constant squeaking sound. I believed it to be someone anxiously fidgeting their knee and causing the table to squeak. I surveyed the room over and over again. For the first ten minutes I was sympathetic towards whomever was anxiously knocking their knee into the table, and then it began to grate on my nerves. I panned the room, more intently this time. My focus was no longer on the class, but on finding the culprit who is squeaking the table or chair. This is going to end in an eye gouging at worst, and a verbal beat down at best. This gosh damn squeaking has GOT.TO.STOP!!! Amanda informed me that the sound was not a student, but was a bird chirping at the street light. It all made more sense. I took a deep breath and I calmed down. Then I thought about Sheila. I thought about what price she would pay to hear that bird. Here I am, bitching about Mother Nature and God’s creations because they are not in line with how I would like for them to be, all the while there is another human who would give anything to participate with these things in whatever capacity she can. Suddenly, that bird didn’t sound so bad. Actually, it sounded quite nice. I wondered if the bird was actually bitching to the streetlight, all while I was bitching at the bird, or if it was admiring the beauty of the light, and should I be admiring the beauty of the bird. I chose to admire. Let’s move on.
I have rambled on for 1,000 words and have yet to get to the reason which I originally sat down to write this. Last night we received a handout in class. The handout explained the importance of facial expressions and body language. The sheet said that 75% of sign language is in body language! Wow. I was excited to read this. I couldn’t help but thing of how I have heard over and over again, “it is not what you say, but how you say it” combined with ” life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it”. For both of these lessons, Sheila is my muse. She explained and demonstrated the difference in someone signing the words to a song, versus someone playing out the song with feeling. She demonstrated what goes in to helping her FEEL the music, and that is what hit me hardest. I couldn’t help but think that Sheila has made the CHOICE to FEEL the music in life. She has not decided that she was dealt a bad hand, and music was not something that she could appreciate. I want to believe that she has chosen to hear and feel life’s rhythm and has chosen to dance along to them. I don’t think that I do a very good job of this. I think that I hear sounds and find the dissonance, I focus on the annoyance, I look for what could have been played more in tune with what I want to hear. I want to be like Sheila. I want to take whatever tune that life is playing, regardless of structure, and feel it as art and appreciate the entire composition. I hope that today you will listen to the world around you, and appreciate it’s music. Don’t wait for the next song to start tapping your feet. Take the music that is playing and make it beautiful. Start listening and enjoying.