It’s me, the deaf person you just met. We’re out, right now, at a deaf social event. You’re an aspiring interpreter, dreaming about the day you feel confident enough to go out there and interpret for a living. You’ve got passion, fire in your belly, a yearning desire to be in a field where you know without a doubt that you’re needed. You’ve got to meet me, see if we have enough in common to be friends, because when the time comes, I am the one you you would fight for. You probably won’t interpret for me, directly, because we’re going to be friends and that can be, well, complicated.
It’s another me, sitting here at another social. You’ve just come up, now feeling more confident in your skills, because you just finished your interpreter preparation program. You’re nervous still, waiting for the upcoming test that you’re going to have to take before you can be certified. You’re still coming to these socials, still meeting every version of me, the deaf person, the one that you think of when you’re out there in the trenches. We laugh, you and I, having fantastic conversations. We get to know each other, and our friendship deepens. It is me you think of when you remember why you really do this.
It’s me again. We’ve been friends for so long, we start to forget how long it has been and it amazes us. Were we ever so young? You’re a professional interpreter now, certified and oh, so qualified. You’ve been building your experience. You’ve been out there everyday, working more hours than you sometimes want to work. You’re tired because you took that late-night assignment that turned into an all-night assignment. You can’t tell me about it, really, because you protect the confidentiality of your clients. But that’s okay, because that’s not why we’re here, in this place, enjoying our coffees. We talk of old times and new times, of things that interest us, politics and TV shows, and our friendships deepen. It is me that you’re reminded of when you see a door shut, metaphorically speaking, in a deaf person’s face. It is me you think of when you see parents not being able to communicate with their own deaf child.
In these moments, you are reminded of why you choose this profession where you are essentially a bridge of communication, between the deaf and the hearing. You make a living, hopefully, as you deserve to, but that is not why you continue to do it. Perhaps it once was, when you first started out, but then you met me, your deaf friend.
There are so many of us, who share your interests, who would have a conversation about the more meaningful things in life, or who would be happy to sit back and relax on the couch binge-watching the latest TV show. We would chat, then, not before or after an assignment in which I am the client and you are the interpreter, but as peers. It doesn’t matter that in these times, really, that you hear and I do not.
And the truth is, you are richer for this friendship. It’s not that I’m any better or worse of a friend than any that you already have. I may lift you up at times, or I could be just as much of a thoughtless friend who forgot your last birthday, but our friendship is deeper than that. We go back, you and I, and I am the one who you will fight for when you’re out there, seeing other deaf individuals being discriminated against. I am the one that challenges you to always grow as an interpreter.
I am the one who keeps you connected in this community, so that the job is not a job, but a passion.
And if you’ve found that you’ve forgotten me, that a distance has been created between us as it sometimes does between interpreters and the deaf community, it’s not too late. You are always welcome back. The connection may have been severed, but we will repair it, you and I.
Note from the author: In case it’s not obvious, I don’t actually mean that I, J. Parrish Lewis, have to be that friend. Of course, I love making new friends, but so do countless deaf people worldwide. Reach out to them. Not as an interpreter to a deaf client, but as a person to a person, and you might see these rich friendships develop. I wish you success.
Oh, and yes, if you actually do meet me, let’s chat. I’m sure we have much to talk about.