Though language barriers can make communication difficult at times, love can break through them.
I met Rebecca while deployed to Mobile, Alabama for a post-critical incident intervention for various law enforcement officers and support staff. As my team began training in the areas of stress and trauma, I watched this young woman move to the front of the training room and begin to do sign language. It finally dawned on me (yes, I am a bit slow) why the business card the Special Agent in Charge handed me had small bumps on it: there was a member of his division that was deaf.
During one of the breaks, I took the opportunity to talk with her and asked about her position as an interpreter for the FBI. Since I was preparing to conduct a training on communicating to connect, I inquired about the power of her form of communication and some of the areas that seemed most critical. I wanted to discover how to connect with someone when they cannot hear words or tone of voice, and said that I do not know sign language.
She said, “Over 58 percent of your communication is done through the face, eyes, and in my case, hands.” She described how an interpreter can come across as insincere or lackadaisical by the lack of strength with the hands, the numb expression on the face and even the occasional rolling of the eyes. She went on to say, “If I want to let the person know that I understand and value them, they have to see it. It must be on my face, in my eyes and through my sign language that I ‘hear’ them.”
As I considered these reflections, I wondered if people “hear” God’s love in my eyes, on my face and through the actions I do even when I do not speak a single word. I remember the various mission crusades I participated in and the vast amounts of people I encountered that did not speak my language. Although we all came from different cultures and countries, we were still able to connect through the greatest conduit of communication: love.
Through the years of speaking and presenting, I have found that people will feel your attitude long before they hear your words. They will feel the warmth of acceptance and value in your smile and eyes long before you open your mouth. They will feel comforted by your calm and gentle presence without the first sentence spoken. I believe that in a time such as this with a lot of noise, panic and problems, the “language of love” is our greatest tool.
For us here in Plant City, this language of love is more than just the actions of our hands. It is the movement of our hearts. It is heard with every phone call made to check on someone and every meal prepared for others that cannot get out. It is seen with every warehouse worker, shelf stocker, semi truck driver and first responder who is committed to bring the confidence, care and commitment to “love one another.” This is what challenges and changes a community to be its best in the worst of times.
I remembered a story of a blind man that sat on steps with a sign that read “Blind, please help!” As footsteps would walk by, occasionally someone would put some change in his small bucket. About mid-morning, he heard the sound of high heels walking by. The high heels stopped, turned, and came back. The blind man thought he would receive some money. Instead, his sign was taken from him and he could hear scribbling on it. Once finished, it was handed back to him and the high heels walked away. Within minutes, the blind man began to hear change clinking around in his small bucket. Person after person passing by dropped money, to the growing amazement of the blind man. At the end of the day, when he could feel the sun going down, he heard the high heels again. Knowing it was the same shoes, he called out. “Excuse me. Can you tell me what you wrote on my sign?” The high heels came to him and a tender woman’s voice said, “I changed your words. I wrote, ‘It is a beautiful day and I cannot see it.’”
With all the words of problems and panic, I am thankful Plant City has decided to change the words to help, healing, and hope. Only when we are willing to change the words of worry can we hear the clinking sound of “change” in our community that starts with the language of love we speak from our hearts. This type of love is one that even the deaf can hear and the blind can see.
Dr. Daniel Middlebrooks is the Senior Chaplain of First Call Church and the CEO/President of Chaplaincy Care, Inc.