Words from My Hands

    “Words from My Hands,” Ensign, Aug. 1991, 52–53

    Words from My Hands

    As I slowly sat down, the room seemed to darken around me. I focused only on Mary’s face. Her expression told me not to worry. And yet I knew how desperately she wanted the words that would come from my hands. The chair was cold and hard against my backbone, and I was numbed by fear.

    Just five months earlier, I had started a class in American Sign Language. Mary’s former interpreter was teaching the class in order to help prepare a new interpreter for Mary. The class was full at first, but after a few weeks, only six people remained, struggling to position their fingers into the ABCs.

    I seemed to learn signing easily, and I soon realized that I would be Mary’s interpreter. I remembered virtually every sign I was shown. The Spirit was clearly aiding my progress by quickening my understanding and retention so that, through me, Mary could fully participate in Church meetings on Sundays. Although no bishop had asked me into his office, I felt as if I had received an important assignment from the Lord. Over the following weeks, I studied signing during every spare minute. I made a pact with a co-worker to learn at least two signs a day, and my co-worker held me strictly accountable, never allowing me to slip away from work without using my two new signs in a sentence. At home I practiced interpreting television programs and radio commentary.

    Today my time had come. I was in the Relief Society room, facing Mary for the first time as her interpreter. As I sat there, my body felt limp as I prayed, “Lord, let me remember the signs I’ve learned. Mary needs my help.” I swallowed hard to hold back tears of anxiety. Then, as I concentrated on each word of the lesson, my fingers and arms began to move—awkwardly at first, then with increasing ease. Mary smiled with encouragement. I breathed deeply and continued.

    As I interpreted for Mary during the following year, whatever blessings I gave to her returned to me tenfold. I found solemnity, even sacred ground, in that shared silent world. I experienced a kind of bonding with Mary that rivaled the feeling of mothering my first child. My visual perception increased, allowing me to find greater beauty in the curve of an infant’s cheek and the jagged violet edge of a mountaintop. Even the most subtle gestures caught my glance.

    We enjoyed humorous moments together—when Mary joined several signs together at once to startle me or when I tried to “talk” to Mary while driving my car. One Sunday while I was vigorously signing the words of a talk in sacrament meeting, I circled the side of my hand around my face, accidentally smacking my forehead and knocking my glasses down onto the end of my nose. The congregation could not help noticing Mary’s chuckle that day.

    In Ether 12:27 we read, “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; … for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” Through Mary’s need and the motions of my own fumbling fingers, the Lord blessed me with the privilege of glimpsing life through Mary’s window while deeply enriching the view from my own.

    Illustrated by Rob McKay