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A Letter to My Younger Self

Dear Younger Me,

Right now you are about to graduate from your Interpreter Training Program and you have NO idea what you are getting yourself into.

You don't know that your work will take you into the darkest corners of the human experience possible.  You don't know that there are monsters who walk among us and disability does not discriminate in making those monsters.  You are blissfully unaware of that oily, contaminated feeling you will get when you are forced to do things in your work that make you want to go home and wash your eyes, mouth, and hands in bleach.

Right now you have no sense of what it means to be present when someone is on their knees, weeping the tears of the broken because of something that YOU said to them.  You will not remember that those words weren't yours because you were the one looking into their eyes when their entire world imploded around them.

You will learn to wear your hair in different styles so that rapists cannot easily control you by grabbing your braid or ponytail.  You will select clothes that are contrasting and have suitably high necklines, but (more importantly) are easy for you to run and kick in and have pockets to carry to carry your links to freedom, a.k.a your phone and keys.  Even your underwear will reflect your unwanted education as you choose bras without underwire that may be used as a weapon.

At around ten years in, you will be so burned out from not having a voice and from not even realizing that the cumulative load of the emotional burdens you've borne have overbalanced the weight of Atlas on your shoulders.  You will struggle to get back up again and keep going because now it's been a decade and you've fallen in love with the Deaf community and can't bear to think of leaving them.

Even after you stagger back to your feet and learn to gird yourself against some of these psychic assaults, the tablecloth will be pulled out from you in ways you never even saw coming.  It will come at you in the form of hate for interpreters from your beloved Deaf community.  It will slap you in the face while you're voice interpreting and a Deaf person jumps up on stage and tears apart your mentor, a person you deeply care for, in front of a giant audience of colleagues, teachers, and students.  And yet you had to put voice to those sentiments that make you shiver in recollection because you are a professional and you had to keep going.

You will be forced to interpret for racists, for religious zealots, and for people with opinions on subjects that are VERY different from yours and you will do it, to the best of your ability, because you are a GOOD interpreter and could do nothing less than your very best.  Even when the message makes you want to hurl.  Even when you fear your complicity in ideologies that you would shield your children from with every bone in your body.  Because Deaf people are not children and it is not your job to stand between them and things you think are bad.

You will do all this, my darling, and so much more.  And you will keep on doing it.  Because it is WORTH IT.  Because so many of your happy adult memories were made through interpreting.  They were made with the friends (Deaf and hearing) that you connected with over jobs.  They were made through the Boards you served on and the organizations you supported.   The on-the-job memories that bring you such joy often made no one else happy, but you will be about to burst with the joy of seeing Deaf people achieve in Sisyphean conditions.  It will occur to you afterwards that you contributed in some small part and you will feel pride swelling your chest, but mostly you'll remember the smiles on their faces and the glow that it brought to your heart.

You will do this for the babies you saw birthed.  You will do this for the people who shuffled off the mortal coil while you stood in the room and watched the doctors frantically try to save them.  You will do this for the 5-year-old Deaf child who flew into your arms in the emergency room because the parents were in surgery after an accident and you were the first friendly face to show up.  You will do this for the moments when you find yourself standing on top of mountains, on ocean floors, inside laboratories, crawling through nuclear reactors, skydiving out of airplanes, mushing on dog sleds, swimming with dolphins, climbing glaciers, and going to so many other places you would never have seen if a Deaf person hadn't taken you along for the ride.

You will do all this because you love them all and you need no praise nor platitude about what you can bring to their lives.  The fact that you were there at all will make your life rich beyond compare.  You. Were. There.  A silent witness.  A fly on the wall.  A living record of the best and worst moments of other people's lives.  And nearly twenty years in, you will know what the burned out version of you had yet to figure out: You might change lives and you might not, but the effort will change you.  And you will love it.

So, buckle up, my dear.  It's gonna be a bumpy ride.


Older Me