It’s A New Year!

Hello family! First of all I want to thank everyone for their concern about my absence. The outpouring of love this year continues and I am overwhelmed by the many and specific acts of kindness and thoughtful notes I have received.

I am fine.

I am better than I have been in a long while.

I took a little break to work on the book but then this happened…

This beautiful gift is the daughter of my son who we lost to suicide in July.

She arrived and everything else kind of went away for a while.

As I have said in my Rules in various ways no job or task is important enough to require you to abandon your family and the love and support of friends.

Truth be told, the book is only slightly more complete than it was. But my heart has undergone a healing miracle. I have the peace that can only come from looking into the eyes of my granddaughter (not used to that one yet) and realize I need my heart to be whole so she can break it for herself each time she leaves my arms.

She is not my son. She is who she is and who she will be.

She is all attitude and smiles like he was as a baby, but she is also herself.

But I can feel him. Wanting to hold her so I do it for him. It’s been my job for a minute-it took me a minute to overcome my fear, it went away the moment she looked at me-I could make this a full time job.

I am back though. I have a whole crop of new Rules and Notes and Random Thoughts on what you Probably Should Know.

I am starting out with a hard one for me. It makes me a bit nervous because it’s self reflective in a way I am not used to.

But that is for tomorrow. Today I am Grandpa Uncle Dale. Gruncle (Yes I know that is Gravity Falls but I’m retasking it for my own purposes).

Today is for this:

See you tomorrow.

Gruncle Dale.

Random Thoughts From Uncle Dale: 2018 End of the Year Post

Between Christmas and New Years I like to repost the most “popular” posts from the year.

This year that is an odd prospect because, as many of you know, I had some traumatic life events that caused some of my posts to be shared by this wonderful, loving community many more times than others. These posts were shared as much for the emotion as the content.

That gives me pause to think about what I mean when I say “popular.”

That is usually just a calculation of the most views. But, as I said, this year I cannot rely on the most viewed being the most helpful.

So I came to a decision. In this post I will include a few of those more emotionally powerful posts that may have skewed the numbers as far as views and start with the most viewed posts that are more directed at the experience of the interpreter and skill development tomorrow.

Thank you. Thank you all for the love you’ve shown this year for both me and my family.

1. Real Talk With Aunt SuperTam

https://uncledalesrulesforinterpreters.wordpress.com/2018/07/31/note-from-aunt-supertam-real-talk-with-supertam/

2. An Open Letter to Lin-Manuel Miranda.

https://uncledalesrulesforinterpreters.wordpress.com/2018/07/23/thank-you-and-an-open-letter-to-lin-manuel-miranda/

3. This is Where You Are.

https://uncledalesrulesforinterpreters.wordpress.com/2018/08/21/note-from-uncle-dale-this-is-where-you-are/

Love to you all!

UD

Note From Uncle Dale: Because You Have Been Given Much You Too Must Give.

The title of this Note actually comes from a song I learned in church as a child.

Now, if you are concerned that I’m going to get all religiony or preachy with you, don’t worry. The religious song is just the framework, the structure upon which I can hang my point. As for preachy?

Well, preachy is a matter of personal interpretation.

One persons preachy is another persons useful advice (I think it depends on how the “advice” pokes your heart and mind. If it assures you, that’s one thing, but if hurts a bit or makes you think of a habit you already knew you needed to change, that is what most people call preachy).

Before you give into the temptation to think the title of this Note means I will be telling you that you need to volunteer more, of course you do; but that’s not exactly my point.

The first verse of the song talks not about giving as in giving away, but about giving as defined as sharing:

My glowing fire, my loaf of bread, my roof’s safe shelter overhead that he too may be comforted…

Share.

Share what you have been given. And make no mistake, you have been given much.

Sometime, somewhere, someone pulled you aside and said, “I have something I can teach you that will make your journey smoother than mine, let me share it with you. It will not make everything easy for you, but if you let me share it with you it will make the path easier for you than it was for me.”

That mentor, hearing or Deaf, was given much and so they gave. Because they gave to you, you now have something to give.

It takes nothing away from you to help another interpreter get better at what they do. Knowledge, wisdom and skill are not finite resources. When you give of your time, energy and experience to lift another it improves the profession as a whole and opens doors for the Deaf community.

In the end sharing always makes you better at what you do. You never really have a skill, it is never locked down for you, until you teach it to another person.

Develop a true desire for the next generation of interpreters to be better, more skilled, more able than you ever hoped to be, ever dreamed of being, and you will achieve more than you can imagine in your own time.

You may think, “but I am just getting the hang of this myself…”.

You have something to offer even if you think you don’t.

I make a joke when I teach, “what is the difference between a teacher and a student?”

One chapter.

You have something to offer. Even if it seems like a little, it means a lot.

You have been given much and so you have something to share.

…I will give love to those in need, I’ll show that love by word and deed, thus shall my thanks be thanks indeed.

Give back to the community that has given you so much. Give back in large and small ways. Give back in word and deed.

“Now,” you think, “now he is talking about volunteering.” Well of course you should volunteer. But that is still not exactly what I mean.

Think about where your skills and abilities are needed most and then take them there.

I think reader (and now friend) Xenia Fretter said it best. “Sometimes,” she said, “we should choose to take the 2 hour appointment where our skills are needed over the all-day appointment, that pays better, but doesn’t require any specific skill or experience.”

Because we have been given much, we should consider where we are needed most, not just what pays the most.

We must seek for a Deaf-heart. If you know the term but don’t know exactly what it means then that is your next mission. Learn its meaning, and then live it each hour of each day.

…because I have been sheltered, fed by thy good care…

Each of us, at one time or another, has been sheltered and fed by the good care of another.

I will never forget, so many years ago, when I showed up at an appointment and realized very quickly that I was in over my head.

Then my team showed up.

I took a risk and shared my fears with this wonderful, kind, experienced interpreter. She looked at me and asked, “why do you think you’re not ready for this? If you think you don’t know enough ‘Signs,’ you do. It’s not a vocabulary test. If you think you don’t have the skills, you do. I’ve seen your work. I asked for you as my team. What you don’t have yet is the experience. You get that today. So, take a breath and do your best work. I’m not going to let you fall on your face. That would not be fair to the Client or to you.”

At that moment she literally took ahold of my chin and gently turned my face and looked me in the eyes. “You go and do your best work. Not good work or great work. Your best work. Work harder than you have ever worked. I will take care of the rest.”

I ran into this great interpreter a few months ago at a conference and asked her if she remembered that day. She laughed and said, “I gave that speech to you? You? I’ll take your word for it because I gave it a lot, but I don’t remember giving it to you” (then she laughed and said, “when you use this for your blog don’t mention my name, it will ruin my reputation as a mean ol’ lady.”

You’re secret is safe. Mean mean mean that’s what you are. Grin).

I have been sheltered and fed by the good care of so many others. In that way I have been given much so I too must give.

(Ok I totally have to digress here. A while ago I was in court as the attorney and in walked the interpreter; one of my former students. She stopped and this look of fear crossed her face. I greeted her and she was obviously nervous. I pulled her aside and asked if she was ok. She stammered our that she did not expect it to be me she was interpreting for. I gave her a version of the speech above tailored to her current situation.

I ended by reminding her that she was not interpreting for witness testimony, the Client was in the gallery watching me argue a motion on their case and I knew she had the skills to do this BECAUSE I TAUGHT HER TO DO IT!

She did a fantastic job.

When the hearing was over I talked with my Client for a minute and looked around but the interpreter was gone. I walked into the hallway found her sitting on a bench in a secluded corner near the restrooms, crying.

I sat down and put my arm around her and said, “you were fantastic! I’m so proud of your work.”

She looked up at me and said, “you were so mean! I’ve never heard you speak to people like that. It was so mean!”

Um. You can’t prepare them for everything I guess. Even at the time I didn’t remember the hearing being particularly contentious, but Lawyer Uncle Dale is apparently different from Professor Uncle Dale.)

Because I have been given much, I too must give. Thank you for reading this Note. That simple act, reading my thoughts, is helping me to give.

That is my last point.

Part of giving is receiving. People can’t get the benefit of giving if we are not willing to receive.

Let people serve you.

For many of us that is the most difficult thing I ask in this Note. Let others grow through their service to you.

Let your peers lift you up and support you along the way. If you do, you are really helping them as well.

We need each other. Now more than any time in my memory we need one another.

We need to serve and accept service. If the horrors of the recent months of my life taught me anything, they taught me that point over and over. Sometimes the best service we can give is to accept service from others.

We must give. We must give if for no other reason than to show thankfulness for all that we have been given.

And make no mistake. Each of us, every one, has been given much.

Note from Uncle Dale: A Gift For You-This Is Water

I’ve needed to write this Note for a while so it’s about time I did!

In several of my Notes, like Happiness for example, I quote an essay by one of my favorite authors, David Foster Wallace, called This Is Water.

Prior to being an essay Mr. Wallace gave This Is Water as a commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005. Someone in the audience recorded it and it was traded around like a Grateful Dead bootleg until someone transcribed it and published it.

Now with the magic of YouTube you can find the original recording online.

I cannot begin to explain to you the power of Mr. Wallace’s brief comments on that day in 2005. For me to lack the words to explain is saying something, because words, words I give freely, to both the willing and the resistant. Both intentionally and obliviously I am well known for educating people against their will. But, if I tried to explain why you should take the time to get to know This Is Water any words I chose simply would not match the words already there.

So I will just say this:

It did not change my life, it changed how I chose to understand and interpret the experiences of my life.

Oh, and it made me a better interpreter.

Since I posted my Note called Happiness I have seen that several people reposted just the David Foster Wallace quote on social media. And well they should. That quote is worth sharing.

However…

That is just a few lines from a greater masterwork. There is so much more there!

All that being said, if I haven’t convinced you to read This Is Water, (if you take any number of my classes sooner or later I will make you. Because I’m the teacher and I can) then I will offer you first an appetizer and then the full meal.

The Appetizer: Someone made a short film of a heavily edited portion of the 2005 original recording at Kenyon College. Although it is heavily edited it still quite amazing.

https://youtu.be/XHefxlDUinE

I hope that watching the clip entices you sit down to The Full Meal: The full 2005 Speech.

The full meal so very much worth the price of twenty minute of your life.

“Greetings parents and congratulations to Kenyon’s graduating class of 2005. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story thing turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.

Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I’m supposed to talk about your liberal arts education’s meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let’s talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about “teaching you how to think.” If you’re like me as a student, you’ve never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. But I’m going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we’re supposed to get in a place like this isn’t really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about.

If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I’d ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your scepticism about the value of the totally obvious.

Here’s another didactic little story. There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was 50 below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.’” And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. “Well then you must believe now,” he says, “After all, here you are, alive.” The atheist just rolls his eyes. “No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp.”

It’s easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people’s two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy’s interpretation is true and the other guy’s is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person’s most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice. Plus, there’s the whole matter of arrogance. The nonreligious guy is so totally certain in his dismissal of the possibility that the passing Eskimos had anything to do with his prayer for help. True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They’re probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists’ problem is exactly the same as the story’s unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up.

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

Please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being “well-adjusted”, which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.

Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education–least in my own case–is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualise stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.

As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotised by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.”

This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in day out” really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I’m talking about.

By way of example, let’s say it’s an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home. You haven’t had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be but you can’t just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store’s confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to manoeuvre your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough check-out lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to “Have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.

Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn’t yet been part of you graduates’ actual life routine, day after week after month after year.

But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.

Or, of course, if I’m in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV’s and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] — this is an example of how NOT to think, though — most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children’s children will despise us for wasting all the future’s fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.

You get the idea.

If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the centre of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.

The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.

Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.

Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to.

But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“This is water.”

“This is water.”

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

I wish you way more than luck.

David Foster Wallace.

Rule 647

Dear interpreting student who is struggling right now:

I need you to believe in you, because it’s lonely out here believing in you all by myself.

If I thought you were hopeless I would have no compunction about encouraging you to explore exciting careers in the food service industry.

Have we had that discussion?

No?

Then it’s time to get back to work.

Dennis Cokely: My Memory of an Honored Friend and Colleague.

There are moments in time, the significance of which we miss because we are too young or naïve or inexperienced to see them for what they are. Years and experience throw a glaring light on those missed moments as if to highlight what could have been, what you could have done, if only you knew then what you know now.

Dennis Cokley’s passing this week takes me back to one of those, “if only I could turn back the clock,” occurrences. It happened at a lunch that I shared with him my first semester of law school.

Dennis loved teaching and learning moments, so to honor him I will share with you a story that I know would make Dennis chuckle… because that is exactly what he did when, a couple of years ago, he and I remembered together what happened at that lunch.

I first “met” Dennis in the mid-1990’s while I was working for the Utah Community Center for the Deaf. We were introduced when he came to teach some workshops in Utah. Over the years he and I talked and faxed (oh children this was back when email was science trying to prove it was not fiction).  He and I really got to know each other when I was accepted to law school at Northeastern University. I sent him a note and he responded that when I had settled in and found the time to come see him and he would take me to lunch.

A few months into my first semester I happened to have some time open and I wandered across campus to Dennis’ office to see if he was free. As I walked into the Deaf Studies Department he was walking out to go to lunch with a colleague, but he kindly invited me to join them. I told him I didn’t want to disrupt his lunch. Dennis gave me that smile (if you’ve ever met him you know the smile I mean) and signed, “we would welcome you to join us, I would love to introduce you.”

So I went.

Dennis introduced me to his colleague as “my friend from Utah.” Dennis went on to give “a proper Deaf introduction” to this hearing colleague and I realized that he knew things about my history and background that only a person who took an interest would know. His introduction was gracious and complementary in a way that can only be described as, “with the manners Dennis was known for.”

Then we ate. We ate and talked about Deaf culture, interpreting, law, policy, the past and the future. They asked my opinion. They listen to my input (I am cringing as I remember how much I thought I understood that day compared to how little I actually knew).

It was a very enjoyable lunch. But I admit, to my embarrassment, I did even begin to grasp the enviable position I was in that afternoon.

With the benefit of years and experience I now realize that I had a singular experience that day. I relive that afternoon and think of all the things I should have asked if only I had understood that for two and half hours I sat between two of the greatest minds in my field. For those brief two hours he gave me a place at the table, seated between Dennis Cokley and Harlan Lane.

Thank you Dennis. Your kindness equaled your intellect.

That is the greatest complement I think I could pay him.

Note from Aunt SuperTam: Real Talk with SuperTam

If you did not know it by now reading this blog, I married an incredible and profound person.

Many people have asked me to share the talk my wife gave at my son Harrison’s funeral.

PLEASE DON’T STOP READING! This is an uncomfortable topic, but we need to accept this discomfit because it is literally about life and death.

I am sharing only part of her longer remarks because it is vitally important. You can find the full transcript on my Facebook timeline.

I am happy that it touched so many people and hopefully opened up some much needed dialog on the topics of both mental illness and suicide.

Please remember that these are the words she spoke over my son’s coffin, in a room with about 600 people watching and listening. I say that not only as a kind of trigger warning, and as a way of letting you know the power and strength possible in the human spirit, but also to highlight the sacred nature of her words.

Please share this. Share her full remarks. Share them with people you love or people you just met, but share this message.

Excerpts of remarks given on July 28, 2018, at the funeral of Harrison T Boam by his mother Tammis R Boam.

“…Harrison asked me to say it like it is today. So, we are going to have what I’m calling Real Talk with SuperTam, (because that’s my nickname).

Harrison killed himself. Very few people want to say that. People don’t want to talk about it. People do want to talk about it but they don’t know how. It’s an unbearably painful topic. People keep telling Dale and myself that we are so brave to talk openly about what Harrison did. We never considered any other option. It didn’t feel brave to either one of us, just truthful. When a person dies of heart disease or cancer or pneumonia, we all grieve, but we don’t fear talking about why they died. Mental illness carries a heavy stigma in our society and I believe we share an obligation to have more productive and proactive conversations about a really scary and difficult topic. Mental illness is physical illness. It happens in the brain. Just like MS or Parkinson’s disease; it can be a chemical imbalance, a failure of synapses to connect properly, or an underdeveloped portion of the brain that limits its proper function. It is not different than any other illness. But it is sooo taboo. When the term ‘Mental Illness’ is mentioned, people think in extremes; severe debilitation, psychosis, the inability to work or leave the house, erratic behavior, frightening delusions – scary, scary words, yet mental illness usually doesn’t look like that. It’s depression – from mild to severe, anxiety, ADHD, OCD, Anorexia, Post Partum Depression, Autism Spectrum – it can be an illness or a disorder or a dysfunction. Everyone in this room knows someone who deals with a mental illness every single day. It is often silent and very subversive, and people can feel isolated or hopeless.

Nearly every single person that I talked to, or Dale, or my parents or in-laws or our friends knows someone who has had suicide effect their family. The heartbreaking thing is that suicide is on the rise amongst our youth. Our children are dying and we are afraid to talk about it because it is uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable for me to stand here today and talk about it.

But I am willing to open the conversation. I am willing to answer questions. I will listen to fears and pains, and I will try to offer comfort. I know I’m not the only one willing to do this, but I think one of the problems we collectively suffer from is fear.

Dale and I always try to teach our kids that the devil dwells in darkness and the gospel spreads light. So they should base their decisions on whether or not they have to hide what they do in darkness or if they can do it openly in the light. This is a good foundation for teaching decision-making. However, people often hide in darkness. Not because they are dark themselves, but because they are afraid. We need to learn how to recognize people who are hiding. We must practice seeing what people in pain look like. We need to commit to ourselves that we will be the person. The one who offers succor, in whatever form that takes. We need to ask questions and develop relationships that allow people to open up and be unafraid… The Lord is asking us to be is hands and help his children. We need to seek the one, and we also need to be the one. Be the one who looks. Be the one who asks. Be the one who sees. We have the power to heal.

Our family has been terribly, irrevocably wounded and changed. We are in agony. But we are being ministered to, every second of every day. Because of that, we are already beginning to heal. We have a long road ahead and we accept that, because we do not walk that road alone. The Savior walks that road with us. And so do every single one of you every time you do something that is motivated by love. The road that we walk, the same road you walk, is the path of the gospel. It guides us towards our Father in Heaven…

He did kill himself, but he also died because he suffered from an illness. We do not need to be ashamed of that or hide that fact. Harrison made a choice I wish he had not. He took an action he can’t take back. I know he would if he could. I know he didn’t mean to do this. But we are the ones who are left with the results of his actions. What do we do with that? Do we live within the atonement of Christ? Do we refuse to let fear keep us from speaking when speaking is necessary? Do we reach out, see a person, offer love and provide acceptance? Do we hide in the darkness, or do we shine in the light? I know what Harrison would have us do, and I know what the Lord would have us do.

Harrison, I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.”