What I affectionately refer to as my “Jobby Job” involves creating real time captions for live news programming. It’s a pleasant challenge so far (although I could do without the 45-minute commute part of the “challenge,” which is surely of the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” school of experiences) and having a schedule is a pretty nice change from my unstructured, though often delightfully lazy, days of freelancing. Jobby Job has also inspired me to pursue something I’ve wanted to study for a few years now: American Sign Language.
One day, I realized that I was doing more than just repeating the news back into a microphone and saying, “comma” and “new line” an awful lot. My job allows me to serve the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in a very valuable way. This fact touched me deeply and reminded me that, even though I am not perfect or able-bodied myself, I can help others in my own way. And that, even when I’m having a bad day or I get frustrated, I am serving a disabled population – the deaf and hard-of-hearing – who deserves nothing but my very best effort. So, galvanized by my unusual Jobby Job, I’ve begun to study signing this month!
So far, it’s been… strange. I’m going to go with “strange.” Learning ASL is completely different from learning a foreign language in most ways. The vocabulary isn’t new, exactly; the words are the same but I need to learn to link them to a physical action both visually and by feel. It’s not like memorizing nouns and colors and verb tenses in high school French. Learning ASL is, by its very nature, highly interactive. It has to be! It isn’t enough to just be able to recognize what others are signing but you have to be able to recreate the signs yourself. You’ve got to really get into it!
ASL is also a very expressive language. Facial expressions and posture play a role in this non-verbal form of communication and can make or break the meaning of a word. For example, today I just learned that the sign for “infection” and “insurance” are the same hand gesture except for the expression that goes with it! “Insurance” gets a neutral facial expression while “infection” uses a sort of distressed or disgusted look. I’m sure someone would eventually figure out which one you mean but I sure wouldn’t want to get them confused in an emergency!
Can you tell I was learning health-themed signs today?
Anyway, the point in all of this is that I can help. Even I can help. My body is weak and sick and and my brain is wired a little funny but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have skills that I can use to aid others. Maybe I can’t always help myself but that’s not the end of it. There have been people along my struggle with pain and fatigue who offered me assistance in a thousand small ways and I – even I – am capable of offering my small help to a community who deserves to live their lives with dignity.