Hear no evil | SteamboatToday.com

Hear no evil

I met an Alaskan Eskimo who told me Eskimos don’t actually have 100 words for “snow.” They have only one.

In sign language, there are 30 different signs for one cuss word, and there are many different ways to say almost anything.

I took a sign language class in college even though I’d never known a deaf person. I was just fascinated by the language and the existence of a truly universal form of communication. Besides, if chimpanzees could learn sign language, so could I.

One of my new roommates is deaf. Not only am I re-learning sign language, but I am also retraining myself in basic etiquette and exploring my natural curiosity.

For instance, I had to ask my roommate how to compensate for not being able to knock on her door and how not to startle her when I enter a room. I was curious about how she uses an alarm clock and what the best way was to keep her abreast of the topic of conversation when a group of us are talking.

But I still found myself calling out her name or asking her questions before I remembered that she couldn’t hear me.

There are so many things that people who can hear take for granted. Since my roommate and I first started getting to know each another via e-mail, I have thought about what it must be like to be deaf.

I remember a scene in a movie in which a man held his breath at the bottom of a pool for as long as he could. He wanted to know what it felt like to not be able to hear anything.

That image has stayed with me. Imagine if you could never hear someone yell in a moment of rage, scream out in pain or cry in sorrow.

I think of deaf people as superheroes. If you lose one sense, I’ve heard that all your other senses become more powerful.

As a child, I wondered which sense I would give up if I had to choose one. For me, it would be the sense of smell. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to never hear a favorite song or see someone I loved or feel the softness of a chinchilla.

In the short time I’ve known her, my roommate already has taught me so much. We went on a short hike last weekend, and by the time we turned around to head back, we were writing less to one another on a pad of paper and communicating more through sign language. We could even make jokes using only two signs.

She has taught me that a person can learn to speak without ever hearing the words or his or her own voice. And she has taught me how to discard useless rambling and get straight to the point. What could take 10 minutes to explain to someone may really require only 10 seconds. Our society has lost touch with the art of writing letters. Communicating without speech or e-mail brings you back to the basics.

Our other roommate went to work Monday after hanging out with her all weekend and noticed that she listened to people better and spoke more articulately.

Hanging out with my new roommate has made me realize that everyone who meets her will be changed in some way – whether thinking more about the way they express themselves or learning about a different and fascinating culture.

And maybe she will teach you the 30 different ways to say that one swear word.

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