My mother and I both learned sign language about 40 years ago, helping interpret church services. My mother advanced far ahead of me in skill, and could still interpret an entire church service now, were she strong enough. I can get through a rudimentary conversation, enough to get by. My daughter Mary is taking ASL (American Sign Language) in school as her foreign language, and she is outstripping me, too, in her skills.
Recently, a deaf woman my mother and I knew in Waco, Patsy Hoffman, passed away. My mother (a multi-talented, multi-faceted woman) also wrote (and still writes, occasionally) for the Waco Tribune Herald. Many years ago, Mom wrote a column about the deaf during “Deaf Awareness Week.” Here is an excerpt:
The deaf I know give and receive comfort and reassurance with a most touching simplicity. My husband and I visited our deaf friend Patsy Hoffman and prayed with her one day shortly before she was to have surgery. In her Demerol haze, she sat up and held out her arms to be hugged, like a child.
Patsy reciprocated with a visit to me sometime later when I was recovering from surgery…. “I act pretty good,” I confessed, “but inside I feel like a big baby.” She kissed my cheek, quietly signed “I love you,” and left….
In worship services, I sometimes sense that Patsy would love to sing – really sing with her voice. When conditions are just right – the songs are slow enough, or possibly familiar enough – she will follow not only my signs but also will form the words with her own lips as I do with mine.
Once as I was practicing at home I was smitten with the relevance of one song:
“There is music in my soul today,
A carol to my King,
And Jesus, listening, can hear
The songs I cannot sing.”
Privately, I fantasize that Jesus, listening, can hear the songs that Patsy cannot sing.
– Jeanie Mercer, Waco Tribune Herald, 9-28-85
As I was trying to tell my kids about Patsy this week, after hearing that she had passed away, I was struck with my own memories of how she would sometimes strain with the effort and desire to sing the songs she was signing.
Now she can.