Without glancing up, the older gentleman rummaged through his worn wallet. I sat patiently, waiting for a response. Nothing.
It was a slow afternoon in the college cafeteria. I sat at the register, counting down the minutes until my shift would end – only 10 more minutes. A middle-aged gentleman walked up to the register, putting his plate on the scale to weigh his food.
After an awkward length of time, the gentleman looked up and glanced toward the computer screen. I looked around, puzzled, and slightly uncomfortable before mentioning the total again. But what happened next stunned me. The gentleman motioned toward the screen and communicated in sign language. I felt a twinge of embarrassment for not realizing sooner; this man was deaf. A wave of panic seeped in; I’d never met someone deaf before. How would I communicate? I gently turned the screen, pointing at the price. Staring down at his wad of ones, the gentleman nervously glanced at his plate of food. It was apparent that his meal cost more than he’d anticipated.
Without thinking, I swiped my debit card. Smiling, I slowly mouthed the words, “You’re good to go.” He looked up, eyes watery, and mouthed “thank you” in response. I nodded, tears welling in my eyes. As the gentleman disappeared, our encounter lingered in my memory for several years.
Learning Another Language
During my senior year, a new sign language course was available, and I immediately signed up. And as fate would have it, I did see that man again. When I was able to communicate with him in his language, it made me realize how much I take my blessings for granted. I’m incredibly blessed to be able to communicate in a language that most people understand. How hard must it be for those who are unable to hear or speak?
Life contains many different forms of communication, and yet most of us only master one. We strive for easy and often forget about those who might be struggling to speak our language. When we’re faced with others who communicate differently, we’re challenged because we’re unprepared. The universe is much bigger than the narrow little worlds we’ve created in our minds, and it took an interaction in college to understand that.
Christ spoke in many different languages. He understood people and communicated with them in the most important language – love. His compassion and authenticity for people broke down communication barriers. In the same way, we can seek to understand others by reaching out in the universal language of love.
“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in them” (1 John 4:16, NIV).
Madeleine Lowe writes from Indiana.
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