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The Parable Of Me And The 5 Deaf Kids

By chance (how else?), I found myself at a table with 5 deaf kids. This is the way life goes. I mind my own business, right in front of me and, eventually, I find myself at a table with 5 deaf kids. Try it. Mind your own business and see where it goes. It’s all about the business.

So there we were, at a table, me and 5 deaf kids, thrown together by the culmination of all the Mysteries (like the flower blooming and the engine starting and so on) and the relationship bearing on us was such that the 5 deaf kids read a word and, together, taught me how to sign the word. Now I, maybe like you (or maybe not like you if you, unlike me, are naturally insightful about—and grateful for—all your blessings), have lived my entire life in the presence of sound, immersed in sound, so near sound and in sound and of sound that I’m actually unaware of sound as sound. Do you follow? Sound is granted and that’s how I take it: for. It’s so there, I don’t even notice. This is not to say I don’t hear. I do hear, all the time, but I never notice hearing. Because I live in a sounded world within (here, hear, in here, inhere) the privilege of hearing, I never pay attention to sound or hearing because attention isn’t necessary. Sound is given. Unless you can’t fucking hear. Now if men or white people or heteros or any other recipient of all the good things want to read this little story and interpret “hearing” as a symbol, that’s all well and good. But I’m going to get on with it.

First, before I get on with it, I ought to make a not so easy confession. Here goes: I didn’t want to play the ‘Learn To Sign With 5 Deaf Kids’ game. You are no doubt wondering “Why? Why didn’t you want to play the ‘Learn To Sign With 5 Deaf Kids’ game, Black Hockey Jesus?” Well, I didn’t want to play the ‘Learn To Sign With 5 Deaf Kids’ game because it seemed to me like a waste of goddamn time. Which is to say I am a selfish prick with functioning ears. The only redeeming quality I sometimes possess is an unlocked door to a closed mind. It can be opened. It does, sometimes, in fact, open.

The first word was hide and, to sign hide, you put your upturned fist on top of your flat hand (like a rock on paper) and—whoosh—you hide your fist beneath your hand. Hide. Now, though I just provided a very clear and concise description of how to sign hide, at the time the signing of hide was not so apparent. The 5 deaf kids were fast and, though I mean no disrespect, impatient. All 5 kids were either signing hide too quickly or whipping their hands in the air with animated disgust at my sign fumbling fingers. After many furrowed brows and some hands on instruction, I finally mastered hide (and WTF, old man?). At the first signs of their celebration and delight, I was hooked. Imagine Helen Keller finally understanding water with Anne Sullivan. Same thing. Whatever.

After that I was lost in the intensity of teaching and learning and language. There, with them, but also removed, in awe. They cycled so quickly from finger wagging disgust to smiles and high fives. They taught me to sign sing, crawl, write, splash, listen, pull, hop, march, and sweep. And with eyes trained on their hands, obsessed, seemingly consumed with the urgent new concern to learn sign language, I—upon further reflection—sought only to please them. Sure, there’s a bunch of things to think and say about the nature of being and language, about where we truly dwell, houses of vision and sound or both, signification, and, by extension, the inherent privileges that accompany seeing and hearing and communicating and being. But this was simpler than all that. This was just education and pleasure. Here was a man who for awhile groped at the air with his big hands to evoke joy and acceptance from his happy and able teachers.

When it was time to go, instead of drawing a word from the pile, they asked me if there was a word that I wanted to learn. I grabbed a book from my backpack and, ever ignorant, screamed “HOW DO YOU SAY… BOOK?” Like little birds flying, their hands—all of them—came together so quickly, palms up, and I smiled at 5 little books as they opened and closed, book, or was it maybe the wings of 5 big butterflies flapping or 5 outstretched cups to receive an offering that snapped closed into 5 prayers?