Wednesday, March 2, 2011
More Diversity, More Discomfort
In addition to all the other students arrayed around the room, right in front of the table where I sat down was a young woman in a motorized wheelchair.
Fine. Except that as she spun out her question, I realized that I could not understand what she was saying, as she had . . . I don't know how to describe it . . . let's say that her voice and words were highly distorted. As she continued to speak, I felt myself becoming increasingly dismayed and almost panicked at what I would do when she finished speaking. A map of the inside of my brain would look something like this.
She finished speaking, the room was silent, and then she turned around to look for my friend, the teacher, as if to say, "Can you tell her what I said?" or "What do we do now?" He said (very straightforward, relaxed), "I didn't catch all that." And then a woman sitting near her in the front spoke up and told me what my questioner had said. Ah. Okay. I answered.
As the night went on, the woman in the wheelchair asked many questions, and every time, she would look to the back of the room to seek a translation/interpretation, and every time, someone in the class would speak up and tell me what she had said.
When I told my husband this story, he said, "She's not letting anything hold her back," which I think is right and a great response. The amazing thing was that as the night went on, and she asked more questions, I came to understand more and more of what she said. Perhaps I was becoming more relaxed and thus more able to receive; perhaps she was becoming more relaxed as well and thus more able to communicate with me. By the end of the evening, when she bought one of my books for her boyfriend who she said needed "to learn more tolerance," I understood every word.
By the way, my friend the instructor said that she's a very good writer, and when I asked her what she writes about, she said, "Crazy people." What I'd give to see some of her work.