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Monday, March 31, 2014

They Taught Me 3

Lessons Learned

Blind, Deaf, PhD, My Teacher

He was blind from birth, became deaf when he was seven, and when I met him, he was working on his PhD in Computer Science. We were both students at the University of Wisconsin at Madison; he was a much better student than I. I had seen him with his seeing eye dog numerous times around campus, and every time they crossed my path, I found myself amazed and mesmerized by the surety with which they walked and the calm, gentle aura they exuded. I always stopped and watched them pass and wanted to say hello, but, well, how? So rather than trying to cross the uncomfortable feeling bridge of “I don’t know how,” I copped out and melted into the crowd of silent but staring faces. I disappointed myself. Not knowing what to say or how exactly to say it was never a fear that paralyzed me from pressing forward or risking the connection to be made; until now. So time passed, our paths silently crossed, and I remained disappointed with my fear to cross a bridge.  Then an opportunity appeared in the form of a notice on the bulletin board of the house where I was living. The notice read, “Blind-Deaf student requires assistance with homework.” Although it had to be him and this seemed to be the bridge I myself had been unable or unwilling to conjure, I still did not immediately call. Feeling intimidated by his handicap and highly inadequate to reach toward this challenging and completely unfamiliar collection of needs, I resisted. How could my ignorant hands help without understanding? I had no training. I was just an ordinary student. But I did have a bit of time to spare and serving the need of another was the desire of my heart. Perhaps ignorant hands can be trumped by a willing heart. Perhaps ignorant hands can be taught as long as a willing heart builds the bridge. I called. We met. He taught me how to help him with his school work. He was infinitely patient with my ineptness and we frequently shared laughter as I often quite clumsily stumbled up the steep learning curve of serving in this circumstance.  Regularly I found myself transcribing very complicated mathematical pages from textbooks to braille which he would sit and read as quickly as the printer handed them over.  Supremely complicated math problems he could solve without writing them down.  He was unquestionably a genius, unbelievably brilliant, and I was humbled and honored to watch him work. We became good friends. He invited me to his lectures which were far too complicated for me to understand but I attended because I was so proud of him and blessed by his unquenchable passion for learning and sharing. Church, grocery shopping, taking his dog outside to do her business, pizza parties with his other blind and/or deaf friends, walking about campus, bringing him to visit the students in the hospital school where I worked, checking basement mousetraps, these were among others on our list of bridge building activities and interspersed through all were amazing conversations about life and dreams and hope and gifts. I learned more from him than from most of my textbooks.  He taught me about living optimistically and hopefully despite circumstances and about how one must rise up with courage using every gift available in faithful service to others.  He changed my life forever. He taught me that in reaching out to be a blessing we in fact ourselves are deeply blessed. Yes, he taught me.