Literal translation works, right up to the moment that it doesn’t.
Every Freelance Interpreter has rolled the dice and accepted an appointment that they know is long and boring because at least half the time it cancels last minute so they still get paid.
If you haven’t figured it out by now I have this strange tendency to turn every terrible event in my life into a teaching moment for my interpreting students.
In January 2017, I was hit with severe abdominal pain and had to go to the emergency room. Eleven days in the hospital later the surgeons removed 7 inches of my sigmoid colon.
On that first night in the emergency room I sent an email to the students in my medical interpreting class. I told him where I was, described my symptoms briefly and asked them to figure out which body systems might be involved with the pain I was presenting and to tell me what questions they would expect the doctors and nurses to ask if they were interpreting for this.
I tend do it with every kind of trouble or trauma in my life, no matter how big or small, and I’m doing it again. This time with a lesson I got from our family psychiatrist.
Oh, by the way we have a family psychiatrist.
Shocker, I know.
I am acutely aware that having a family psychiatrist says a lot about our family, but I’m not one-hundred percent sure exactly what it says.
Aunt SuperTam calls him our guardian angel. I think it’s an apt description. But, the fact that our guardian angel is a psychiatrist is still worth a nose wrinkle.
There are two main themes in artwork that depicts angels. Angels are usually either holding a symbol of peace, like a dove or an olive branch, or they are holding sword.
Yep. Still a good analogy for Richard.
Often he has guided me through tough times and helped me understand that I was ok by cutting through the delusions and false narratives I set up in order to avoid my real world issues. Once these are gone he shows me how to resolve problems without these self-imposed blinders clouding my vision.
A little history. I first met Richard many many years ago while I was interpreting for a conference. He introduced himself and told me that his son is Deaf (oddly I knew another of his sons from a summer theatre camp I taught). After some small talk Richard asked me if I knew that I had ADHD.
I laughed because I had been tested many times in elementary school for all kinds of different issues (because, whoa baby, I had issues) and the results always came back “inconclusive.” The higher minds of education finally determined that I was “clinically obnoxious” and left it at that.
Anyway, Richard was not dissuaded by my weird response. He told me that he had been watching me during the conference and, while I was interpreting I was laser focused and exact, but when I switched out with my team I did the “sitting in a chair” equivalent of pacing like a caged tiger. If I could have rolled on the floor I would have.
Dang. He’s good.
Then he offered me a deal. A deal that literally changed everything for me.
He had never really learned to Sign (these were the days when the school for the Deaf discouraged parents from learning ASL). He wanted to communicate better with his son, so, if I would come to his office each week and tutor him in ASL he would walk me through the diagnosis and treatment for my ADHD.
And the rest as they say is history.
Richard took me through the testing process and started me on meds. Each week, after the ASL lesson, he would ask me what had happened with me since we last talked.
I would say, “this happened…”
He would reply, “ok, that is a function of the meds, we just need to adjust the dose. What else?”
“Well,” I would report, “my wife and I argued about…”
“Ah,” he would say, “that is a result of a habitual coping mechanism that is now unnecessary. For years that behavior was needed for you and your wife to accomplish a task, now that you are medicated and getting regular treatment you don’t need that behavior, but it’s still a habit, so you two need to talk about your coping mechanisms when you identify them and figure out how to resolve them together. Ok, what else?”
“Well,” I replied, “That, also happened…”
Richard would sit forward, look me in the eye, and in the kindest voice you ever heard say, “that, my friend, happened because you are a jerk (DANG HE’s GOOD). I’ve got no pill for jerk. You’re on your own figuring out that one.”
An angel with an olive branch in one hand and a sword in the other.
On the day my son died Richard showed up at our house in the afternoon and stayed until well after midnight. Then he showed up the next day and did it all again.
It was on the second day that he told me something that applies to so many situations in life I don’t know how I got along without it before. Since then I have passed this advice on three times to interpreters who came to me to work through issues on the job (four times in total because one other interpreter contacted me to discuss a personal issue, but it applied just the same).
That night Richard and I were talking and I said, “if only I had…”
“Stop!” He said.
I was a little taken aback.
Richard’s voice softened and he said, “lift up your head. I mean it. Physically look up.”
“Now,” he continued,”look around and realize this is where you are. If you look behind you you will see paths, all kinds of twisting and turning paths, some intersect and some don’t. These are all the paths you could have taken. You could have made any number of choices and that would have placed you one or another of these paths. If you had changed your mind at any moment you may have taken a different path. But, if you look, if you really look at each of these paths you will realize that each and every one of them leads to right here, because this is where you are.
It doesn’t matter now which one you chose then because it eventually would lead right here, because this is where you are.”
He made sure I was still with him and continued. “This is the place, right here, from which you have to move forward. This place. Right here. Right now. Because this is where you are.
Even if you could go back and wander those paths, you would wander in circles and each time you would find out that you ended up right here. Because this is where you are.
Stop looking back there seeking something that is somewhere in front of you. You won’t find peace back there, or understanding or anything you are looking for. They weren’t there when you were walking those paths before and they aren’t there now. What you are looking for is that way, forward from the place where you are now.”
“You may look back at the path you took in order to figure out the warning signs you missed or to learn from mistakes you may have made along the way to help you not make those same mistakes moving forward. But don’t go back there seeking a different outcome, you won’t find it. Because no matter which path you would chose, it will still lead to right here, because, look around, this is where you are.”
Like I said, that changed my thinking about a lot of things. It made me aware of how often I relieve my mistakes, not to learn from them, but to try to live them out differently in my head trying to force different outcome. But I never can.
On three different occasions interpreters sat in my office crying, one sobbing, because something happened and their appointment went seriously sideways. As we talked over the better and the less effective choices they made inevitably they would say “if only I had…”
Each time I said, “Stop! Look up…”
Because no matter which path they took then, each one led to right here, right now. Because, look around, this is where we are.
Terms For Things All Interpreters Understand:
When you are working from ASL-to-Spoken English and the Client suddenly signs, “YES, EXACTLY YOU RIGHT POINT GOOD,” you have no idea what “point” a different Deaf person, who is behind you, made, and let’s face it “TRAIN-GONE,” but you still reflexively turn your head toward the second Deaf person and, whoops, “TRAIN-GONE” what the Client is saying NOW, so you quickly snap your eyes back to the Client only to realize, by the look on the Client’s face, that the Deaf person behind you is making another comment…
Learn the power of processing the message for just a moment, even a breath, longer.
People keep coming to my door and telling me, “I don’t know what to say.” That is because there are no words. There is only love. It is only you that we needed. We needed you, and here you are.
I cannot express how completely my family and I have felt your love. Emails, texts, cards, calls, flowers, visits and food (so much food). Thank you, thank you, thank you.
So many people have shared with me their own stories of grief. I could never have anticipated how deeply comforting it is to hear these stories and to realize the teller is still breathing in and out, getting out of bed, going to work and the store each day. It will be possible to do the mundane and everyday tasks of life, I know that because others who have walked where I am walking are doing it. They told me their stories and so I know it’s possible.
I know I am just at the door of grieving and that it will sneak up on me in months and years ahead and take me out at the knees when I least expect it. But I also know I have a community around me ready to raise me up when I stumble.
I promise I will return this blog to the purpose for which it was intended, but you may have noticed I write when I am sad or angry or confused or happy or… you get it.
I wrote the following letter a couple of days after my son died and I have been asked to share it here. At the time I was sitting in the darkness and just felt compelled to write. After I sent it to Mr. Miranda’s Facebook page I wondered why I did it. Looking back I remember an episode of M*A*S*H where Dr. Sidney Freedman is writing letters to Sigmund Freud to help himself to understand his own feelings.
I’m not a psychiatrist. I’m a writer and a sometime actor. I don’t write to Dr. Freud. It appears I write to Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Dear Mr. Miranda,
I find myself writing to you in this strange public forum because it is the only place I can imagine right now to reach out to you. I could not find an address to send a letter or email.
I have no actual expectation that you will ever read these words, but, gratitude, like forgiveness, is much more for the giver than the receiver. Even if this never reaches you it is still vital for me to say it.
My 13-year-old daughter is a fan of your work, specifically Hamilton, to a point that can only be adequately described as “with the love and obsession possessed by a 13-year-old girl for a piece of art that speaks to her soul.” Thus I have had the opportunity to not only see your masterwork live when it toured through Salt Lake City, but before and after that inspiring performance to hear the soundtrack on an almost daily loop playing in my home and car.
I therefore became a fan as well.
I am compelled now to write you, to thank you for all your work, but specifically for the song It’s Quiet Uptown. That song has played, not in my home or car, but in my head since Tuesday of this week when my eldest son took his own life.
This was not an act which followed a long struggle with depression or crippling mental illness. It happened in a moment when all the ingredients for such a terrible event were present: anger, an argument and a gun. In a moment that he could not take back he let those three elements take him away from his wife, family, brothers, sister and his mother and I.
I was not there when it happened but that does not prevent me from screaming into the past and begging him to stop and breathe and think for just one more moment. That breath and thought will never happen and all I am left with when the screaming grief and tears of his mother and siblings and I fade, is quiet. Quiet in desperate search of peace.
Though it is quiet outside, in my mind I still beg to hold him. I beg to trade his life for mine. But I am left in the end with quiet-where I try to push away the unimaginable. Where I try to live with the unimaginable.
I am searching Mr. Miranda. Next to me is my wife, we are together walking through the unimaginable.
My gratitude to you is for giving me the words, your words, the ones you gave to Alexander Hamilton and to Eliza Hamilton, that you unknowingly gave to my wife and I as well. Those same words you gave to all who are pushing through the unimaginable.
Now I must find my quiet place, my uptown, where I can do the unimaginable and find that grace too powerful to name.
I know it’s there. Because you told a tale that is rooted in truth. Somewhere there is peace. Somewhere there is grace. But right now it seems unimaginable.
I know it is not impossible. I feel the grace of eternity fighting to find a place in my heart. The faith I learned in church from my childhood tells me there is a place of peace beyond this, though I can’t see it now.
The lyrics that, I can tell you, were whispered into your heart by a loving father in heaven, speak to so many people, too many people, who must find a quiet place to look into the void and learn to live with the unimaginable.
Thank you for listening to that still small voice Mr. Miranda. Thank you for following where that voice inside led you. Thank you for giving those words to all of us pushing through the unimaginable. I know it can’t just be me that needs them.
I felt such a great need to tell you that, to express my thanks knowing that you may never hear it. That you may not know I wrote this does not matter when it comes to gratitude. Gratitude must be expressed.
Our great love to you,
Dale H Boam and family
(Thank you for reading this. I’ll get back to the whole interpreting thing now.)
Stop doubting that you did great work just because you’re the one who did it.