Spirituality for Today – July 2011 – Volume 15, Issue 12

The Gift of Communication

By Sandra Martin

Even though I've been totally blind for the past twenty-seven years, a result of juvenile diabetes, the splendor of Florida's sunshine on this crisp January morning could not be hidden from me. It served as a fitting prelude to one of the most surprising and profound moments of my life as Anna and I followed my partner into the Ft. Myers Library. The walk from the parking lot on such a beautiful day offered many temptations to Anna, curious by nature, but she maintained her composure as a dutiful guide dog.

A photo of a seeing eye dog

We'd come to the library to participate in the Deaf Community Fair representing the Visually Impaired Persons of Southwest Florida. We always welcome an opportunity to share with the public about the services we provide to assist blind and visually impaired persons with the tools, support and opportunities necessary to successfully achieve their desired level of independence. Setting up our display table generally provides an occasion for meeting and greeting the other vendors. It's a noisy time filled with conversations and chatter drifting back and forth between vendors full of excitement about the day's expectations. But today there was none of that, only tapping and banging as people set up their displays for the fair. In the darkness I stopped dead in my tracks feeling lost and so alone. I remained silent as doubts and fears formed insurmountable questions in my mind. "How was I going to communicate with the deaf?" "Even if I knew sign language it wouldn't help me when I couldn't see what they were signing."

Listening to the orderly rhythms of my dear friend and partner as she prepared our display I was struck by an even more overwhelming question. "Could this be how she feels when trying to understand what it's like to be blind?" "In her efforts to communicate her care and assistance to me is she left feeling at a loss?" I knew that she must and, with that certainty, a sense of shame flooded my soul for what I now realized were unreasonable expectations. I'd wanted my family and friends to understand how it felt to be blind, but this experience gave me the opportunity to see things from their perspective. Among the deaf I was the one who would have to learn about the world of silence. It occurred to me that only the deaf can fully understand their silence and only the blind can fully understand their darkness. These communication barriers literally drove me to find a chair where I sat pondering the feelings of heaviness in my heart.

The ability to communicate is a precious God-given gift we often take for granted. A few synonyms for communicate help give us a better appreciation for this gift. For instance, the word "commune" expresses the idea of feeling at one with another or empathizing. "Connect" is a synonym conveying the thought of being united or bonded together. "Share" is an interesting synonym which leads us to the concepts of revealing, making known, making public or bringing to light. Clearly communication draws people together; without it we can experience isolation.

That God would choose to communicate with mankind is truly amazing! He loved those He had created so much that He longed to "connect" with them, to "share" Himself with them by making Himself known through the words of the prophets and apostles, but most clearly through His Son, Jesus Christ. It is no surprise that Christ was referred to in the Gospel of John as the "Word" because He revealed God to us.

Unfortunately, within the human race one of our main obstacles to loving and harmonious relationships is our inability to communicate effectively. Many relationships between husbands and wives or parents and children, where there is mutual love, suffer conflicts because of their inability to clearly communicate their needs, feelings and beliefs to one another. This lack of communication extends beyond the family to people of diverse race, ethnic and cultural heritage, religion, political persuasion, and, yes, even those with differing disabilities. Misunderstandings arise when communication is difficult. Nevertheless, where there's a will there's a way. We may be required to make a few adjustments to improve our communication skills, but, if we are willing, there are rewards to be enjoyed when good lines of communication flow between us.

Bringing things into focus, I decided to simply ask my partner, "How am I going to communicate with the deaf?" At a loss for words, she looked up just when an Interpreter for the deaf came to our table and asked if I would like to talk to a deaf woman. She was about my age and wanted to ask me some questions. "But how?" He explained that it would take my partner, me, the deaf woman and himself to make it possible. This is going to be good I thought! Then the four of us gathered together and enjoyed a conversation meant for two.

The deaf woman signed the question. The Interpreter, in turn, used the spoken word to ask me her question. He would then sign my answer to her. What was my partner to do, you ask? Her job was to serve as my eyes, keeping the lines of communication open, and tell me not to talk when the deaf woman was signing. It was such an awesome experience! The deaf woman and I exchanged smiles and giggles as she explained how, as a deaf woman, she raised her child; and asked how I, as a blind woman, raised mine. This meaningful dialog was something that I knew I would cherish forever!

So comfortable did we become in this exchange, it opened the doors to two more conversations with deaf people. A woman and I shared razing kid stories. She has a nine year old son with hearing and I have a sighted daughter. We could identify with one another in that, we both shared special moments of how our children blessed us and at the same time caused some very interesting challenges in our lives. The other conversation was with a deaf man who had a service dog for the deaf named Hiro. Of course, that conversation revolved around our dogs! We agreed to take their harnesses off and let them meet. It was a match made in heaven as they played and exchanged dog kisses!

When the time came for us to pack up and leave I almost didn't want to go. The experiences of the day provided enlightenment in so many different ways. Even for those of us with sight and hearing loss, life becomes so busy that we forget to smile or say a friendly "hello" to people. Take a moment today and say the extra "Hi," or smile the extra smile for someone. You'll be surprised how making use of the gift of communication enriches life!