Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Train Stories

As people may (or may not) know, I take the local to and from work on account of my intolerance for the express trains (waaaaaaaaaaaay too much time between stops = trapped in a metal stink-tube with the killers and the liars and the thieves, good Gawd). This allows me the opportunity to people watch, if I'm zen, or people glare, if I'm feeling the crazy.

Yesterday, I was plugging along on Guns, Germs, and Steel (and I'm going to finish it this time around dagnabit) when two people sat next to me. I was sitting on the inside of a front-facing seat, the woman sat next to me, and her companion sat in front of me in a side-facing seat. They were completely silent, but the motion of their hands caught my eye. She held his hand in both of hers and I could see that she was signing onto his hand. He would lift his hand and sign to her then grab for her hands so that she could respond. He was wearing a button that said "I am deaf and blind."

I agree that the city is full of wonders (and horrors, c'mon) but I had never seen a person who is deaf and blind, so I had never seen the way that they communicate. It was amazing. I tried not to stare (much), but most of the car in viewing distance stopped to watch. It wasn't a sideshow thing, though you might assume it--it was simply astonishing. How did he learn it? How did he live? What must his world be like? I paid attention to the things outside of my sense of hearing and sight: the shift and pull of the train, the air, the smells, the vibration of sounds in the floor and at my back. How is it not disconcerting for him when someone unaware plops down beside him on the train? I suppose that is why they held hands the whole time, to keep in safe contact if not to communicate.

What was best of all, perhaps, was the context in which I saw him. The section I was reading related to the spread of languages and how some adapt while others die. And while we are talking about centuries of change, it still reminded me that people will change when they must, and they can learn if given the proper tools to do so. While I might wonder at this man's ability to adapt to his handicaps, it is probably not much of a wonder to him at all.


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