My Two Worlds — Deaf & Hearing

A couple of readers have commented that the blog should also reflect some personal aspects from life, so here’s one installment in that department:

One of my earliest memories is asking my Grandmother to do something for me when I was about four years old: “Grandma, tell Mommy that I want her to make a chocolate cake today.” My Grandmother refused my request and made it a teaching moment: “David, you will have to learn to ask Mommy yourself.” Both my Mom and Dad have been profoundly deaf since birth. At the time, my Grandmother was living with us and I was starting to rely on her to interpret more detailed conversations with my parents. Grandma’s gentle rebuke taught me both responsibility and an early awareness that the language my parents used (American Sign Language) is a unique and complex language.

My Grandmother soon moved out and I started assuming the interpreting role for my parents that she had performed. When I was about six, our family got its first telephone. I can remember my Dad asking me to relay messages about loan payments and calling various stores for my Mom to see if what she wanted was in stock. Phone solicitors would recognize my youthful voice and would ask to speak with my parents. I can remember a couple of times when my reply “No, they can’t come to the phone–they are deaf” was misunderstood. Thinking I had said, “They are dead,” one solicitor said: “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.” I calmly replied: “Oh, that’s okay. They’ve always been that way.” By the time I was twelve, I had interpreted loan contracts and how escrow worked when buying a home and had accompanied my Dad to a specialist when he had a serious sinus infection.

I really never thought that our family was different or that I was fulfilling an unusual role for a child. Once when I was in third grade, a classmate came home with me after school. As I introduced him to my Mom, I noticed his mouth was wide agape. Mom was pleasant to him and he sort of meekly waved to her. As we walked away to play he said, “You never told me your Mom is deaf.” I replied: “You never asked.” The same thing happened when my folks came to teacher conferences with me when I was in Middle School. My French teacher told the whole class the next day about my deaf parents. I didn’t like that sort of attention. As I got older, I tried to get out of interpreting for my folks. I could see there were two worlds: the deaf world and the hearing world. I didn’t want to be in the deaf world any longer.

I had never heard of the designation CODA (Child of Deaf Adult) until after I moved away from home and saw the Hallmark movie “Love is Never Silent.” In the movie, there’s a confrontational scene between the deaf parents and the hearing daughter after she’s moved away from home. During that scene, I broke down and sobbed like I’d never cried in all my life. In fact, I couldn’t even talk about that movie for a couple of years without starting to cry. I wasn’t angry with my parents.  Nor do I think I had an unlucky childhood. That movie began a process which helped me learn how important it is that I embrace who I am. I am in both worlds, both deaf and hearing.  My personality is different in each world.  When I sign to deaf people I’m no longer shy. If I see a deaf person signing, I want to go over and introduce myself. In the hearing world, I’m much more reserved. Since then, I’ve learned to recognize that I can live in both worlds at the same time.

I also came to realize that I can be proud of the unique childhood experience I received from my family. It has made me who I am. It has taught me some important lessons: that despite whatever obstacles one encounters in life, one should never give up – and that love is best experienced when it’s given liberally and unconditionally.

After that, I applied to work as an interpreter for a rural school district, got hired and have worked with Deaf and hard-of-hearing kids the past several years. Currently, I’m working towards getting my educational endorsements to be certified in this field. The Internet and high-speed cable modems allow me to call my parents (who live over a thousand miles away) several times a week and chat in ASL. This year Mom and Dad will celebrate their 66th wedding anniversary!

The past 30 years has seen a vast improvement of services for Deaf. We now have videophone relay interpreters and laws in many countries mandate that interpreting services be provided for Deaf in many settings. Growing up in a Deaf family is a bit different these days, though many issues remain the same. There’s a recent effort to start a TV reality show, entitled “My Deaf Family.” It has its own Facebook page and in 9 days has over 10,000 fans. Here’s a trailer:

Many Churches now have interpreted services for the Deaf and there are a few Deaf congregations — where everyone involved from pastor to parishioner is Deaf. The New Testament is online in American Sign Language (ASL). For a humorous take on the Deaf world at Church, here’s a video by Andy and Ben Olson, CODAs themselves:

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find much being done in the way of work with the Deaf in Orthodox parishes, at least from my online searches. A good series of videos on You Tube have recently been posted by Armenian Orthodox acolyte Tigran Khachikyan in ASL, who is himself deaf. Here he explains “Who is God?”:

One of my goals is to someday be able to post videos of parts of the Divine Liturgy with ASL interpretation. Perhaps that’s being done by someone already? I’d welcome comments from readers who have knowledge of such work among Deaf in Orthodox parishes.

9 Responses to My Two Worlds — Deaf & Hearing

  1. Neil Foley says:

    Dave, my friend,

    Very, very interesting. I’ll do some digging this weekend b/c I think I might have some info on an EO parish which does some ASL interpretation. If I can track it down, I’ll pass it along.

    Many years, Neil

  2. orthocath says:

    Thanks, Neil, for stopping by and if you do find out of any Eastern Christian parishes which have ASL interpretation, I’d be very interested in the information!

  3. Brenda says:

    Absolutely, wonderful Dave. You know how I fee about the Deaf and I share your love for them. Tell you mom and dad I said hi. Peace be with you always🙂

  4. orthocath says:

    And also to you! Thanks for the kind words and for stopping by. I may be asking you for some advice on how to sign some of the words in the Divine Liturgy.🙂

  5. Jeff says:

    Glad you shared! Good luck in finding or making videos. Let me know if I can help. Let you folks know I said Hi to them also.

  6. David Palm says:

    This is fascinating, Dave. So would it be accurate to say that you are a native ASL speaker? You must be extremely fluent.

  7. orthocath says:

    I feel that sign language is my first language, but there’s a difference between that and being a good interpreter. My fluency was more of a family situation but I did not know all the “rules” of ASL. That’s been part of my growth as an interpreter over the years since I started working as one. There are some awesome people who have helped mentor my growth as an interpreter.

    • Stratos Patrinos says:

      Hi Dave,God with you and your family.I wish I could help. But since you are a fluent speaker of ASL I wonder if you could teach some orthodox interpreters about the doctrines and other difficult points of the Liturgy as I’ m doing here.

  8. Amber says:

    Where I live there is a HUGE Jehovah’s Witness following by the local deaf population. I know sign language (though it’s not exactly ASL), but feel completely inadequate in talking to my JW friends who are deaf. Even YouTube has a large amount of JW videos catering specifically to the deaf (https://www.youtube.com/user/john13v35). I’d love to counter them but not sure I’d be able to do so! BUT, I feel it’s greatly needed and would love to share such videos with my friends.

    Being Catholic, I also feel there is a great need in my diocese for signed masses and outreach in ASL.

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