Today, I learned that a 76-year-old valued member of the Deaf community passed away over the weekend.
You know, they just don’t make them like they used to, the great sign language orators and storytellers of yesteryear. For example, the strong use of body shifts. I’m not talking about the leans from side to side and half body turns. I am talking about the standing orator who shifts his whole position on stage as he embodies the character of whom he is speaking.
The grand use of space. And I’m not talking about pointing and referencing. I am talking about the whole and complete use of the space around his body from head to toe, from his left to right extended arms.
And the inclusion and recognition of everyone in attendance. Addressing the local deaf center’s board, bowing as he signs, “Ladies and gentlemen, members of the board, guests, members of the community, and beautiful interpreters…” (Hey, we Spokane interpreters ARE gorgeous.)
And fingerspelling. Our older generation is known for spelling out words, perhaps grammatically incorrect at times, but you get the idea. We need to acknowledge the ethos of those words. “I A-M R-E-S-T-L-E-S-S V-E-R-Y. F-A-T-I-G-U-E-N-E-S-S.” Of course, I interpret, “I’ve been feeling quite restless and fatigued.” To do otherwise would be a great injustice to his grandness.
But the exquisite formality was not limited to the board room. The valued member we lost this weekend brought it with him, kept it with him like a silk pocket handkerchief in a suit, when he would go to the hospital for the various procedures he needed and for which I had the honor of interpreting. For example, during the exhaustive but necessary nurse questioning that happens prior a procedure, ”What meds are you taking? Hmmmm, I’m not familiar with the color of pill…you don’t remember the name? What is your blood pressure? Your family history? Any family member have this, that, and the other?” he would respond respectfully, in the best and most honorable way he could.
And to the question, “Any skin problems?”
“J-U-S-T W-R-I-N-K-L-E-S,” he eloquently spelled. “J-U-S-T W-R-I-N-K-L-E-S.”
Mr. H. Orator. Storyteller. I will miss you. Go in Peace.
LL, 3/16/2009. Prevail.