The Sounds of Silence

Two weeks ago, we had the opportunity to attend a silent weekend for an immersive ASL experience. Lindsey found out about the weekend first and immediately forwarded the information to Sarah. There was no question in our minds that we would go. We registered ourselves so quickly that we nearly forgot about another obligation for the same day. Our sense of team spirit kicked in, and we decided that Sarah would attend the entire weekend with Lindsey joining in on Saturday activities. And what a weekend we had!

All participants of the silent weekend signed a pledge to keep our voices off. Even at the end of the retreat, no one used voice. We found ourselves imagining how each person must sound. It was actually quite fun to have that remain a mystery. The two of us took the pledge a bit further, swearing off of using English in any form as much as possible. We worked around the challenge of necessary “I’ve arrived and I’m safe” text message updates by sending along pictures. Taking a weekend to use non-verbal forms of communication exclusively challenged us to see the world a bit differently. If you’re a hearing person who hasn’t experienced silence often or at all, have you ever wondered what silence feels like?

In the silence, we felt energy. What would you do if you wanted to get a person’s attention without shouting? What if you wanted to get an entire group of people to pay attention? Over the weekend, we saw a great variety of strategies. Sometimes, things worked like phone trees with everyone getting the attention of 2 or 3 people immediately nearby. Other times, the facilitators would flick the lights on and off. Our favorite strategy was dancing around the room while waving both arms to say, “Hi! Hello!” In the silence, there was movement everywhere.

In the silence, we found community. Everyone present wanted each and every person to be successful communicating in ASL and meeting individual goals for the weekend. It didn’t matter that we have only been studying ASL seriously for a few weeks. People helped us to tell them our story of Sarah’s hearing loss and our efforts at developing alternate forms of communication. They identified the progress we’ve made in a few weeks and gave us insights into how this language works. We loved learning about classifiers and other grammatical concepts. Sarah also learned a heap of new vocabulary just by being immersed in the language for a few days. It was Lindsey’s first fully immersive experience, and Lindsey left Saturday feeling much better equipped to have voice-off conversations in ASL. In the silence, we could dialogue about our hopes, our fears, and our feelings as we negotiate the complex elements of rapidly progressing hearing loss.

In the silence, we experienced joy. When everyone had their voices off, Lindsey heard sounds that neither of us had ever noticed before. A smile after two people successfully move past a struggle to communicate has an up s sound when the air held as bated breath gets released through the lips. We observed that other hearing people try and carried themselves more lightly so they didn’t  unintentionally interrupt a conversation by stomping their feet. Lindsey heard clothing crinkling as people enthusiastically used their bodies in various ways to interact with the entire retreat community. And best of all, Lindsey heard the laughter of the group much more robustly. Sarah experienced joy in an entirely different way. On Saturday of the retreat, Sarah was having a particularly low hearing day. But for the first time, it didn’t matter. No one noticed because there was no expectation that talking with another person requires being able to hear. Our experience of silence that weekend was vastly different from Sarah’s other experiences of silence: it wasn’t terrifying or distressing. Instead, it was totally normal. It was the reality of that moment in time, and we embraced it. In the silence, we realized that being silent changes how a person interacts with the world. The silence is neither better nor worse than noise; it’s just different.

In the silence, we experienced the beginnings of healing. The silent weekend provided us with a blessed 48 or so hours of feeling understood and loved. We met lots of people: others who have lost their hearing, family members, interpreting students. For the first time ever, we met people who could say to us, “I get it. I really do. And it’s not always going to be so hard.”

The past several months have brought about many challenges for us, and it has been difficult for us to find spaces where others appreciate those for what they are rather than assuming what they must be. While we’re deeply appreciative of all the emotional support that friends and readers have extended to us, Sarah has been surprised at how often we’re told, “I’m so sorry about the hearing loss. That must be frightening,” and how infrequently our loved ones see that vertigo–not a hearing problem–is the disabling part of Sarah’s Ménière’s disease. Being wiped out and flat on the floor for hours at a time is what keeps Sarah from living fully, and in some ways the hearing loss itself is a blessing. It’s been hard for us to talk with others about this because the vast majority of people we know see deafness as a disability rather than a different but equally valuable way of life. Granted, Sarah is experiencing some grief over not being able to interact with the hearing world in all the same ways as before, and is still figuring out how to cope with feeling stuck between two worlds. But we’re finding that there are positive aspects of hearing loss. Sarah has begun to notice visual details more acutely, and is also starting to recognize that there are wonderful nonverbal ways of being an extrovert. We’re taking in mounds of information about Deaf culture that we never would have known otherwise. And learning ASL is so much fun. It’s not a chore or an obligation. At the silent weekend, all of this was accepted and valued. There was no “poor deaf girl” or “you’re such a hero for facing this” rhetoric. We were just two regular people existing with other human beings and letting the silence apply its balm to our souls.

Because of our experience at the silent weekend, we’re noticing with every passing day that silence is a gift from God. Hesitant as Lindsey was at first about learning ASL, we’ve begun to develop a love of silence. We have our own silent evenings at home now, and those are some of our most precious times together. We love going out in our city and being able to hold basic conversations with each other from across large rooms and in environments with lots of noise. Though we couldn’t have imagined this before we actually went, our silent weekend experience was not simply a resource or a practice session. It was the start of a new adventure in our life together as a family.

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Our Wild Ride Together

One of the things we appreciate most about each other is our mutual love of learning. Before meeting, our intellectual and leisure interests were markedly different with rare surprising areas of overlap. But since the beginnings of our friendship, we’ve gravitated toward sharing aspects of our individual lives that we never would have thought possible. Being able to join and participate in each other’s fantastically nerdy and fun avocations has enlivened both of us. It has been like the transformation of plants in springtime after the first rain showers of the season arrive. Neither of us could have imagined that due to Lindsey’s frequent discussions of engineering design, wondering “How is this made?” would become second nature for Sarah upon encountering objects of all kinds. Likewise, we never would have thought Lindsey might develop an interest in the theological basis of Christian social action movements after engaging in hours of conversation about Sarah’s research. Sometimes, our different personal interests don’t pique each other’s curiosity at all. Lindsey will probably never convince Sarah that American Pickers is anything other than boring, and it’s unlikely that Sarah’s knack for painting or sewing will ever rub off on Lindsey. One never knows for sure, though. A couple of weeks ago, we spent some time on a day trip together reflecting on one of Sarah’s hobbies that, over the past two years, has become a rather unexpected aspect of our shared life.

Having grown up in Eastern Kentucky, Sarah has always been passionate about wildlife. In childhood, Sarah fell in love with all creatures inhabiting the surrounding area. Some of Sarah’s best memories are of sprinting outdoors in bare feet to get a closer look at a snake, turtle, or lizard that Sarah’s dad had found in the backyard…or of catching a red-eyed tree frog to hide in the basket while Sarah’s mom was removing laundry from the clothesline. Every time a member of the family found an orphaned baby animal, Sarah would insist that it not be left to fend for itself. Over the years, Sarah’s family provided care for dozens of reptiles, birds, and small mammals. Sarah still remembers being twelve years old and mourning for a week over the death of a hatchling grouse that was impossible to save. This love for all kinds of wildlife has never become less important. Whether it’s using a broomstick and cat carrier to rescue a young opossum stuck on a fire escape or getting a late start on work after coaxing a reluctant cicada out of the apartment complex early in the morning, a typical day for Sarah almost always involves an interaction with our city’s wildlife.

Very soon after the two of us met, Lindsey learned of Sarah’s interest in wildlife. As we each found out about what brings the other joy, this item arose frequently in conversation. Within the first two weeks of our friendship, Lindsey knew that Sarah had taken a course for wildlife rescue and rehabilitation volunteers, and that eventually Sarah hopes to become more active in supporting the local wildlife center. Lindsey had never been particularly interested in wild animals before meeting Sarah, but long before we decided to pursue a celibate partnership we sensed that Sarah’s enthusiasm about creatures great and small was a beneficial topic for us to discuss together. In no time at all Lindsey was asking Sarah, “How does one safely rescue an injured eagle? Why do migrating songbirds crash into windows of tall buildings? What are you supposed to do if a duck has nested on your roof? Is it possible to save a snake that has swallowed something inedible?”

Later on as we moved in together and began to conceive of ourselves as a family, we had many conversations about the choices we had made individually with regard to donations. We talked about organizations, causes, and ministries that we value, and ultimately came to one mind about which of these should receive support from us jointly. At that point, Sarah introduced Lindsey to the Wildlife Center of Virginia. While not exactly local to us, this wildlife center is one of the nation’s most successful, and a trip there and back from our city can be undertaken within a day. Sarah explained to Lindsey the significance of this organization’s work, and we decided that as a family, we would sponsor two education animals: Buttercup the Black Vulture and Ruby the Red-Tailed Hawk. Something about these two birds resonated deeply with both of us. Sarah has always had a special interest in creatures that most people consider unattractive and nonessential to a healthy ecosystem, so a vulture in particular seemed an appropriate animal to sponsor.

Over the summer this year, we learned that the Wildlife Center of Virginia would be holding some open house dates. Sarah was thrilled at the opportunity to visit over Labor Day weekend and immediately registered the two of us. Lindsey was eager to welcome this new experience, but had some doubts. Even as we headed toward Charlottesville on that Saturday morning, we both knew that Lindsey wasn’t entirely sold on the idea of spending one whole day of a three-day weekend learning about veterinary equipment and animals kept for educational programs. But all that changed as soon as our tour of the facility began. First, everyone present for the open house listened to a presentation about the Center’s history, intake process for animal patients, and rehabilitation approaches. Albus the Eastern Rat Snake introduced himself to us. Under most circumstances, Lindsey is terrified of snakes. But Albus brought a mysterious sense of charm that calmed even the most squirmy, snake-fearing children who were present.

Albus the Rat Snake

Albus the Eastern Rat Snake

Next, we were given the chance to see some of the outdoor enclosures where the Center’s education animals live. A volunteer explained each animal’s story to us and provided some education on the roles they all play in Virginia’s ecosystems. Both of us were excited to meet them, especially Buttercup and Ruby.

Ruby the Red-Tailed Hawk (Unfortunately, we couldn't get a better photo of her.)

Ruby the Red-Tailed Hawk (Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a better photo of her.)

The Center describes Buttercup as a “charismatic black vulture,” and they aren’t kidding. Buttercup is so friendly and imprinted on humans that he rushes to the front of his enclosure anytime visitors come. We took a short video of this.

Any doubts that Lindsey may have had about driving all morning to visit a vulture quickly melted away.

Buttercup the Black Vulture

Buttercup the Black Vulture

Even Sarah was surprised by what we saw inside the Center’s hospital facility, which was the final part of the open house tour. The level of care offered to the animals at this place is superb. Neither of us was aware of how much effort employees and volunteers put into creating and implementing nutrition plans and exercise regimens for each patient. We also developed a new appreciation for the challenge of keeping wild animals wild so they can return to their habitats after receiving needed care. By the time we were ready to leave, Lindsey was saying, “I have to get these people to come to the school where I teach and give a presentation. There are so many engineering design connections I could make with the students!”

Since our visit, Sarah has been thrilled to see Lindsey’s enthusiasm over International Vulture Awareness Day. We celebrated this year by wearing our “Keep Calm and Carrion” t-shirts and sporting our “carrion bags.”

Carrion Bag

Lindsey probably never thought we would say this, but we cherish the ways in which Sarah’s love of wildlife have opened new spaces of enjoyment and interest for Lindsey as well. Vultures and the like are now part of our regular conversations around the dinner table and during long drives. What we’ve learned and continue to learn from this experience is the importance of giving both of us space to be ourselves as fully as possible. This gives us equal freedom to explore new areas of life together, and also freedom to say, “No thanks,” when one of us has an interest that the other feels no connection to whatsoever. It keeps us open to the millions of possibilities that life together affords us. And it makes every day we spend together a truly wild ride.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

The Story of Our Gravatar Icon

We believe that inside jokes can be great fun, and our readers who have been with us since our first month are well aware of this. Once early on in our blogging adventure, we shared about why we think it essential for us to bring a camel to church. Since it’s Friday and we’re sure some of you are just as in need of a smile as we are, we thought it would be fun to let you all in on another of our inside jokes.

If you follow us on Facebook or happen to glance at our Gravatar icon here or our profile photo on Twitter, then you may have seen a curious image. For quite some time, we’ve had a few observant readers contacting us to inquire about this seemingly random pair of rodents.

A Cambodian striped squirrel and a Dzhungarian hamster

A Cambodian striped squirrel and a Dzhungarian hamster at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC

Why in the world would we have a squirrel and a hamster standing together on a platform as our chosen Gravatar, Twitter, and Facebook images? As you might expect, the story of this photo is a bit of a wandering tale.

We are two quirky nerds who love doing life together. Very early on in our friendship, we started talking about introverts. The ever-extroverted Sarah was having trouble understanding why anyone would want to hide in a room after a day at work interacting with a lot of people. Lindsey responded to Sarah’s confusion by sharing Dr. Carmella’s Guide to Understanding the Introverted. This extremely helpful cartoon guide opens with, “Introverted people live in a human-sized hamster ball.”  We talked about how it’s always important to respect an introvert’s hamster ball by not invading personal space too quickly. Since Lindsey is an introvert, it became a routine for Sarah to ask, “May I come into the hamster ball?” when wanting to occupy a seat on the same sofa, or enter into a Skype conversation (as we weren’t living in the same city at the time). It wasn’t too long before Lindsey became known as “Hamster.”

Lindsey’s honestly rubbish about making up nicknames of any kind. We spent many hours talking during our early days of friendship. One of the first things Lindsey learned about Sarah was that Sarah loves wildlife. Lindsey wanted to think of an animal that described Sarah, but was struggling until Lindsey noticed Sarah’s big, thick, bushy hair. When it’s tied up in a ponytail high on Sarah’s head, it looks like a squirrel’s tail. And because we already knew about our mutual love of kids’ movies, Lindsey decided to pay homage to Up and start calling Sarah, “Squirrel.”

Ever since, we’ve been constantly referring to ourselves as Hamster and Squirrel. Over time, this odd little inside joke has expanded to include some of our closest mutual friends. Sarah, the wildlife nerd, memorized the information on hundreds of animal profile cards as a child and can still recall all of it, so it didn’t take long before we started seeing admirable animal (specifically rodent) qualities in people who play significant roles in our lives. One of our friends is tall and lanky and conducts himself much like a ferret. Another friend is soft, cuddly, and warm like a chinchilla. Sometimes we let our friends pick their own creatures. We have friends who have chosen capybara, agouti, kangaroo rat, and the like. With so many fun creatures, we decided to start looking for the array of our friends’ animals whenever we would visit zoos, pet stores, or museums. Photos of said animals make great accompaniments for “We miss you and you should come visit us soon!” text messages.

The National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC has a Hall of Mammals. This exhibit has hundreds of specimens on display. Naturally, on one of our visits there, we started looking for our friends’ respective rodents. We were rather impressed that we found a ferret, a capybara, and a chinchilla. Not surprisingly, Lindsey wondered whether the museum had a hamster. We continued our search and discovered that, yes, the Museum of Natural History does, in fact, have a hamster on display…and the hamster even stands next to a squirrel. We knew immediately that we had to snap a photo.

This story might sound silly, immature, and perhaps trivial. But having fun together is an essential part of an authentic relationship. One of the reasons why we love our adventures in spotting members of the order rodentia is that this inside joke has extended far beyond the two of us and marks out our family of choice. Sharing life together involves celebrating our mutual quirkiness. Finding people who appreciate your unique qualities can be challenging. We’re interested in hearing from you in the comments about seemingly trivial or unusual aspects of life that, odd as they may be, are important components in the bonds you share with your own family of choice. Have you seen any signature quirks extend far beyond the small group where they originated?

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

When We Grow Up… to 100 Posts

Hello Readers, and Happy Friday! We’ve been so blessed by getting to know you all. We love sharing our thoughts with you and are excited to note that today marks our 100th post on the blog. In honor of the occasion, we decided to take a break from serious discussion and write a just-for-fun post about our recent trip to New York City.

On the drive to New York, we had a great conversation about how we don’t see our relationship as being principally romantic. We conceive of our relationship more as an absolute commitment to sharing life together through thick and thin. Both of us can’t wait to spend time just being in each other’s presence, but those times of togetherness have been few and far between during the last several months. Lindsey has been between jobs, so we’ve both been working as many hours as we can muster in order to make sure all our needs are met. Part of the reason we try to write so faithfully on this blog is that it’s one of the most meaningful ways we’ve found for spending quality time together during this incredibly stressful season.  We hadn’t been making any travel plans for the foreseeable future, but like most things we’ve experienced together, the logistics of this trip fell into place organically. Through a series of unlikely events, we had received some AirBnB travel credit on the same day as Lindsey recovered an email from the spam folder announcing that one of our all-time favorite musicals, Matilda, was on spring pricing.

Taking a vacation to recover feelings of connectedness, no matter how a couple understands their relationship, can be tricky. We’ve learned that establishing connection involves creating space for the other simply to be. Travelers to any city can easily lose time to relax and reconnect because they are busy trying to take in all of the sights. We deliberately scheduled ourselves such that the only place we had to be at a certain time was the theater, and the rest of the time was free. Since we had seen the show on Broadway once before, we had a reasonably good handle on what kinds of things we might consider doing while still managing to get to the show on time.

One reason we find so much joy in cultivating a shared way of life is that our natural ways of relating to one another mesh quite well. Sometimes without even noticing, within the same activity we manage to meet both Sarah’s need for unpredictability and Lindsey’s need for downtime off the beaten path. We’re able to be spontaneous and sometimes happen upon places and experiences that others might overlook, all while seeking a space where peace and quiet oddly coexists with the chaotic. On the way to an ice cream shop, we got derailed by what we think are the world’s best cookies at the Cookie Jar, a small business tucked away on Staten Island. We were delighted to discover that the cookies were both inexpensive and scrumptious. The raspberry hazelnut thumbprints, cannoli creams, and chocolate chip pecans were some of our favorites. It’s a good thing this store ships cookies because we’re not sure we can wait until our next New York trip to enjoy some again. Somehow, spending our Saturday afternoon relaxing on Staten Island was exactly what both of us needed.

Various antique cookie jars sit in cubbies along one wall of the Cookie Jar

Various antique cookie jars sit in cubbies along one wall of the Cookie Jar

Unsure of how many delays we might experience along our trek back into Manhattan, we said goodbye to the Cookie Jar and made our way back toward the ferry. Did we mention that the (free) Staten Island Ferry also serves as a great poor man’s/introvert’s Statue of Liberty tour?

A view of the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry

A view of the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry

As it turned out, we were able to make our way to the Shubert Theater far more lackadaisically than expected. Arriving at the theater with nearly perfect timing felt like the Holy Grail of visits to New York City: we had to wait only 10 minutes before people began taking their seats. Once the show began, we were soon enchanted by Gabriella Pizzolo’s outstanding performance in the show’s titular role.

Holding our Playbills in front of the Matilda stage

Holding our Playbills in front of the Matilda stage

To give you a taste of the American iteration of Matilda, check out this medley from the Tony Awards that features “Naughty,” “Revolting Children,” and “When I Grow Up.”

… and just because Lindsey loves to share all things Matilda, here’s a fuller version of “When I Grow Up” performed by the London cast:

Upon leaving New York the next day, we took our time driving home. The long drive offered ample opportunities for us to critique the Americanizations of the show (which were even more pronounced than the first time we saw it) and to share stories with one another. This weekend was the first opportunity we’d had in months (well, at least outside of blogging) to engage each other in meaningful discussion. Being able to spend some time talking just with each other was reinvigorating. This time helped us to feel even more deeply connected not only to each other, but also to the broader dialogue we are privileged to hold with all of you. Today as our little blog grows up to its 100th post, we are especially hopeful that A Queer Calling will continue to be a place of safe, productive, and fun interactions.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

It’s Hump Day…with camel cupcakes (and links too)

We’ve made it halfway to the weekend. If you’re feeling like we are this week, Saturday can’t come quickly enough. But for now…Happy Hump Day, readers!

Since sharing the story of how we acquired our stuffed camel, Cleopas, we’ve been hearing about camels from friends and readers on a regular basis. One of our friends sent us a photo of a camel marionette named Navidad. Another took a photo of a stuffed camel he saw at a garage sale. Several others sent us video recordings of Geico’s Hump Day commercial. But one friend sent us a gift that (quite literally) takes the cake. We present to you…camel cupcakes!

One dromedary camel and one bactrian camel, both missing their right ears

One dromedary camel and one Bactrian camel, both missing their right ears and sitting atop chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting

We are unsure of how both camels ended up with their right ears missing, but we think it gives them character. They’re actually small trinket boxes that look like cupcakes. We’ve decided that at some point, we will buy caramels to put inside and serve to our house guests because honestly, who wouldn’t enjoy choosing a couple of caramel candies from cupcake containers crowned with congenial camels (or trying to say that five times fast)?

We hope you find our cupcakes as amusing as we do. (They made us happier than a camel on Wednesday :-p ). We’re looking forward to more illuminating conversation with all of you, but for now we would like to share some articles we’ve been reading within the past couple of weeks. (And by way of reminder, our linking to an article does not mean that we necessarily agree with its argument or endorse other content by its author.)

  • Donald Miller published Five Principles of Civil Dialogue at Storyline last week. This article contains a few helpful points to keep in mind when engaging in conversation with others, especially during times of disagreement.
  • We first found Rachel Smith’s blog, Food, Faith, and Fools, after she linked to one of Lindsey’s personal reflections. Sarah read Rachel’s post titled, Food Spirituality: The Path to Mindful Eating and found some immensely helpful tips in it. If you’re interested in learning more about mindful eating, this post has some great takeaways.
  • Speaking of food and eating, if you’re interested in learning some new information for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, take this quiz.
  • Against Heterosexuality, Michael W. Hannon’s recent article at First Things, raises some interesting points about the concept of sexual orientation, arguing that sexual orientation labels “inhibit Christian witness.”
  • Anna Magdalena at The Catholic Transgender offers a different perspective on claiming one’s sexual orientation or gender identity in an insightful piece titled, Out of the Closet for Jesus?
  • In the aforementioned piece, Anna quotes heavily from Gabriel Blanchard at Mudblood Catholic, which is another blog you should definitely check out if you haven’t already. This week, Gabriel has written a post on the response many conservative Christians have had to Uganda’s anti-gay legislation: The Least of These, My Brethren.
  • Charlotte Norton at Middle Ground offers a heartfelt reflection on her relationship with her partner. Our Story: Just Friends (2) is one post in a series that Charlotte hopes to continue. You can find the link to Part 1 at her blog as well.
  • Last week, Facebook made a significant change to its options for identifying one’s gender. If you’re unsure about some or all of the new gender options, read The Complete Glossary of Facebook’s 51 Gender Options at The Daily Beast.
  • Yesterday, the editors of America Magazine published an excellent editorial titled, When the Law Is a Crime on why Christian supporters of a traditional definition of marriage should not also be supporting the criminalization of homosexuality.

That’s all for today, folks. Happy reading, and Happy Hump Day!

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.