“Singing in Silence,” Friend, May 1992, 34
After the closing prayer, I carefully watched Sister Forester, the Primary president. Because I’m deaf, she always smiles and nods at me when it is time for my Merrie Miss class to leave Primary. Her lips shape the words, “You may leave now.”
But Sister Forester’s mouth formed different words this time. “Melissa, please stay after Primary.”
I watched the other girls move by in their pastel and print dresses. Why was I supposed to stay? I hadn’t done anything wrong. Or had I?
I usually have to read the lips of people at church, but Sister Forester knows sign language. She told me once that her sister was deaf. Now she beckoned me to meet her on the Primary stand. I sat down beside her. The scent of her perfume tickled my nose. Then she moved her lips. “Would you sing for our special Father’s Day program next month?”
Something in my stomach turned to a hard lump, and I felt the blood rush to my face. Was Sister Forester making fun of me? She knew that I couldn’t sing. Even when I tried talking, other children sometimes made fun of the sounds that came from my throat.
Every Sunday I ached inside when all the other children sang and I had to sit there on the hard metal chairs in silence. I learned the words, and tried to imagine what music was. But I knew that as long as I lived, I would never sing a word. There was no music for a deaf person.
But looking into Sister Forester’s eyes now, I saw only kindness. I knew she wasn’t joking. Quickly I signed, “I can’t sing. I’m deaf.”
Sister Forester reached out her hand. I felt the back of her fingers touch my cheek. Then her mouth formed the words, “I don’t want you to sing with your voice. I want you to sing with your hands. Would you sign the words to the first verse of ‘I Believe in Christ’ while the other children sing them?”
The knot in my stomach tightened. I knew she was trying to be kind, trying to find something for me to do, but it would be so hard. How would I know how fast to move my arms, when to start, when to stop? I asked Sister Forester, and she said that she would give me special signals.
I told her I would think about it and talk to my parents.
Sister Forester smiled, then signed, “Could you talk to Heavenly Father, too, since it’s His Son you will be singing about?” Then her lips moved again. “If He doesn’t want you to do it, that’s OK.”
I felt relieved. Sister Forester wouldn’t force me, and I knew my parents would let me choose. I promised that I would pray about it. I thought that Heavenly Father wouldn’t want me to look silly in church, either.
But when I asked Heavenly Father, His Spirit came through the silence and warmed my heart, and I knew that I should do it.
“But I’m scared,” I told Him. “What if everyone laughs at my funny signs?” Then I cried.
I practiced hard for the next month. One day each week I went to Sister Forester’s house. She had been a dancer, and she taught me to move my arms and hands in slow, soft motions as I signed the words. She said that the movements were like music and that with practice I could turn my signs into a gorgeous melody. Her words were kind, but I wasn’t sure.
When I woke up the morning of the program, I wanted to be sick. I lay in bed and buried my face in my pillow. I thought about how silly I would look as I waved my arms around. To people who didn’t understand sign language, I would look like an octopus.
Dad must have guessed that I was having trouble. He came in my room and sat on the edge of the bed. His eyes smiled kindly. “Are you afraid?” he asked.
He held out his arms. I rolled over and sat up. Dad’s arms wrapped around me. Then gently he pushed me back so that I could see his face. “Sister Forester told me that you remind her of an angel when you sing ‘I Believe in Christ’ your way. She believes that the ward members will enjoy your song very much.”
Dad’s words didn’t seem to help, but having him close to me did. His lips moved again. “If you become frightened, just remember Whom you are singing about.”
Even you don’t understand, Dad, I thought. Moving your hands isn’t singing at all.
An hour later I was standing at the podium in front of a microphone I wouldn’t use. My mouth was dry. The ward members filled the chapel, and the clock on the back wall seemed to have stopped. Sister Forester was signaling that it was nearly time for me to start.
I lifted my arms. They felt like wriggly worms that didn’t want to obey my head. My heart pounded, and I wasn’t sure that I could remember all the movements Sister Forester had taught me. The atmosphere around me seemed thicker than usual. Why couldn’t I hear? Why couldn’t I sing like other children?
Sister Forester gave me the signal, and I began moving my arms and hands to her rhythm. “I believe in Christ …”
I saw Sister Forester smile, and Dad’s words came to me: “Remember Whom you are singing about.” A warmth came into my heart. I pushed the fear away and sang the only way I knew how.
Sister Forester and I worked together, just as we had practiced. My hands moved effortlessly as I signed the words. But I wasn’t performing. I was bearing my testimony through song. Finally I signed the last words: “Good works were His; His name be praised.”
Finished, I looked down from the stand. Everyone’s eyes seemed to be on me. I saw tears on the cheeks of gray-haired Brother Hansen. Sister Frankel was dabbing her eyes under her glasses with a handkerchief. Sister Forester smiled like she does in Sharing Time when she’s trying not to cry. Even Mom and Dad were wiping tears off their smiling faces.
Then I knew why Sister Forester and Heavenly Father had asked me to do this. It was to teach me that songs about the Savior come from the heart, not the lips or the hands. Now I know that He hears the songs of all the silent children in the world. He always has. He always will.