I have never spent much time around deaf people. While there are plenty of people in my family that are hard of hearing, I have no family members that are deaf. The people in my family who have the most severe hearing problems have never been so bad off that there was any consideration of them needing to learn sign language. At the same time, there were never any deaf people in the schools I attended, churches I went to, or places that I’ve worked. I’ve definitely been around people with hearing aids and who had hearing issues bad enough that it affected their speech. But I’ve never spent any significant time around people who regularly use sign language. So I was fascinated when I saw the couple at the bookstore signing at each other.
It was quickly apparent that these were people who were fluent in sign language. Their signing wasn’t just something they were doing to try and be as quiet as they could in a bookstore. They communicated like this regularly. The motions of their hands were quick and confident. Their eyes focused on each other’s hands and face with the same varied attention people who speak give to each other.
There was not verbal communication between them. I have no idea if they were both deaf or if it was just one of them. I watched them as much as I could without just staring at them. They seemed to be unaware of my presence. At least they didn’t acknowledge that I was watching them. And I didn’t follow them around. I just happened to be in the same general area of the bookstore that they were in. They weren’t doing anything else to make them worth following around.
I didn’t notice that they had left the bookstore shortly before I did. When I was trying to pull out of the parking lot, the line of traffic ahead of me was stopped at a red light that was extremely slow to change. I had to wait for a long time. Soon I noticed the deaf couple in car in front of me. It was also very obvious that they were having an argument. The motions of their hands were accelerated, like a boxer or a martial arts fighter in the middle of combat. They were also “talking” over each other. There was not courtesy of waiting for the other to complete before the other started signing. Then I saw the lady “interrupt” the man. She stuck her hand out in the middle of the space where the man was signing. I don’t know if this is a common technique among deaf people but I thought it was brilliant. I don’t know if it the signing equivalent of loudly going “Wait! Wait! Wait!” or putting your hand over someone’s mouth. I suppose it somewhere in the middle. I wish there was some way to do that when talking to people.
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