It was different than any experience that I’d ever had in sports. I mean, it’s been a little while since I’ve broken out a volleyball, but I don’t remember all of that being part of the game. This game had kicking and hitting the ball, whichever was necessary to get it over the net. And within the players, it included hitting, kicking, wrestling, and biting. Thankfully, since it was my first time, they left me out of that part. The deaf kids were glad to have me there. We played and played. My arms were sore, but my heart was happy. Dinner time eventually came and the headmaster sent all the kids inside but one. She was a sweet-faced girl. Initially I had noticed that she was a bit less confident and a bit more shy. It seemed she wasn’t sure of her ability to hit the ball, and was a little embarrassed to try. She was the oldest girl out there. In fact, they told me that she was a graduate of the deaf school who had now integrated into mainstream school with a sign language translator. (As a side note, it is nice to be able to talk about someone right in front of them, and not be worried about if they can hear you.) I heard the headmaster brag on her, saying that she had found her courage to come out and play, as she was often too shy. Though she wanted to, she sometimes held back. After all the other kids had been sent away to dinner, it was only one teacher, the headmaster, and the two of us girls. I watched her confidence grow each time she successfully hit the ball into the air. She wasn’t scared anymore, she was accepted and having fun. At one point, the girl’s phone dropped to the ground as she ran. The headmaster picked it up and said, “Everyone’s got a phone now”, half-jokingly adding “even the deaf”. I said back to him that with texting the whole world is wide open to communicate, whether or not you can hear. He added, that if they were taught to read and write, a whole other realm could be entered. “Empowerment!”- he reveled for a moment in the victory that he got to be a part of as the leader of the deaf school. I agreed, that it was a big victory, for each child a much wider world of possibilities. I didn’t think any more about it. Just kept hitting the ball back and forth til the darkness began to overtake us.
The next day I had three surgeries. The third was a girl just over 20 years of age. She was deaf and mute, and couldn’t read or write. She made some hand motions, but she didn’t know sign language, so no one understood. When she got excited and was really trying to make something known, she would make some vague noises. All the history came from her caregiver. The exam was not showing any real issues, but there had been a cyst on ultrasound. Based on the caregiver’s persistent claim of the patient’s pain, she had been set up for surgery. She came into the OR, obviously a bit nervous. I stayed by her side the whole time as we prepared for the surgery, intentionally giving her a face and hand that she could trust. The time came for the spinal to occur. I sort of got across through hand motions that someone was about to prick her in the back. My hands rested on her shoulder and leg, calming her, soothing her. She made it through, but tears were streaming down her face. The anesthesia had some issues, so we needed to test and see if she was numb. It became like torture for her. She was already scared. She couldn’t understand why we were pinching her. Her eyes became wild, scared, untrusting. Breathing increased. Sweat poured off of her skin. The medicine that was supposed to make her numb wasn’t working. Finally the anesthesia team agreed to put her to sleep, this was too much for her. She couldn’t understand or enter our world. My heart broke for her. The final tears dropped down her cheeks as the sleeping medicines took effect. This magic drug took away the need to trust, the need to understand, the need to communicate.
I thought of how different the two stories were. Both were born to the same kind of life. But the worlds have become very different. One had entered a world where she had gained confidence in herself little by little. She had integrated into a normal school, she had been willing to take one step in front of the other to slowly make her way in toward the volleyball net (even though a white stranger was on the other side of it). The other had no way to enter the world around her. Her value was no less, but the possibilities were drastically inferior. All the world was filled with unknown risk; fear and misunderstanding lurked everywhere. What set them apart now wasn’t some amazing healing or great medical advance. It was the persistent, day to day struggle that had occurred in a classroom, and in a deaf community. Someone had a vision to care and to make a difference in the lives of deaf children. Each girl represents what could have been. Different choices, different opportunities. Now very different lives.
May we, as God’s people learn to reach into the dark worlds, the quiet worlds, the shameful worlds. Those hauntedly isolated places where people dwell. For me, I need to learn to speak love and truth into lives which cannot hear. If only a hand could come along to lift someone out of a lonely place and draw them near. That is what has been done for us. He brought us out of the pit of sinking, miry clay. He brought us out of the sins and failures and weaknesses that were smothering our life, and He pulled us up and drew us close. He showed us a life of kindness, mercy, and grace. And it has made all the difference. May we look for opportunity to do the same. May we not pass by those who need us. Those who need Him.