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I'm Kyle, and I forget when I start my laundry. Also, I am a small human being and apparently a college student. I laugh a lot - usually in my brain, and usually when nobody else laughs. Oh, and I've probably consumed more Skittles than any other human being on planet earth.
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The Beauty of Letting Go...

Friday, September 7, 2012

...And Our Occasional Inability To Do So


I want to tell you about a man called Ildefonso. I have never met this man, and surely never will, and I share his story hoping to relate it to a topic completely unrelated to his experience. Bear with me and hopefully this will make sense.

(Side note: Everything in regards to Ildefonso's story that I share was shared by a woman named Susan Schaller, who ends up playing a pivotal role in Ildefonso's life.) 

Our story starts in Los Angeles in the late 1970's, Susan Schaller is fluent in sign language (she had learned it sort of by chance) and had just been put into an interpreter training program at an L.A. community college. She walks into a reading skills class and sees kids all over the classroom signing excitedly, but then by the door she sees a man off by himself, holding himself as if he were making his own straightjacket. When Susan asks the professor about this man he (the professor) explains that the man was born deaf and is brought to the school each day by his uncle. As Susan observed this man she noticed that he was studying mouths. She then walked up to him and signed "Hello, my name is Susan."

He looked at her, and instead of signing his name he brought his hands up and signed right back to her "Hello, my name is Susan."

Susan shakes her head and says (signs) "No, no, I'm Susan."

To which he responds "No, no, I'm Susan."

And it occurs to Susan that this man, who she called Ildefonso (we don't know his real name), doesn't have language. He was 27 years old, had never been taught sign language, and didn't know he was deaf. He was born deaf and didn't know that there was such a thing as sound - he could see mouths moving, he could see people responding, and he thought everyone had simply figured this stuff out visually.

Well as you can probably guess, Susan begins to teach Ildefonso sign language, and it's an extremely slow and frustrating process. She took out a book and showed him the sign for book, but he thought she was ordering him to open the book, so he grabbed it and opened it. She would show him the sign for standing and he would think she was telling him to stand, so he would. This process continued for weeks.

Long story short, Susan begins to teach him language. After a few weeks of the slow process mentioned above Ildefonso comes to the realization that everything has a name, and his ability to learn and comprehend language began to slowly improve. Fast forward four or five years - Susan and Ildefonso had gone their separate ways when she decides to write a book about him, so she went and found him again. He has language now - she can carry on a conversation with him and ask him all kinds of questions. The big question was, of course, what is it like to be languageless? What had been going on in his head? Susan explained: "I asked and I asked. And I asked.  And he starts telling me that was the dark time in his life. Learning language is like the lights went on and I tell him, 'well we know about language...we want to know what it’s like not to have language. And he doesn't want to talk about it.'"

Fast forward a couple more years, Susan is talking with Ildefonso, once again about the way he used to think, and has this experience: "He said he can't think the way he used to think, and when I pushed him to talk about what it was like to be languageless, the closest he ever came to any kind of an answer was exactly that. I don't know, I don't remember. I think differently now."
Ildefonso could not remember his old way of thinking - he couldn't recall what it was like to think before he had language. It wasn't simply that he couldn't explain it - he literally could not remember. His old way of thinking - of being - had been replaced.


Now, why am I telling you all of this?

Because so often we look back. We hold on. We remember.

There are things in the past - your past and my past - that we miss, and there are times when we struggle to move on. It may be an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend that you miss, if only for one day; maybe it's an old job that you now know you shouldn't have left; it could be a time, a place, a friend, a class, or a sport - it could be anything. Perhaps you miss something that you never really had - a should-have-been love interest, a dream never realized, or goals never achieved. Or maybe this time it's a little different - maybe, somehow, you're missing something that's still there - a friendship you see changing, a relationship you know has to end, a family member pulling away -- in each case, a distance coming between you and one you care about.

We miss things because we care about them. We look back because, at times, it's easier than looking forward - it seems there are fewer questions in the past, and the questions we find there don't always demand an answer, not anymore. We hold on because there is no promise of something better, no guarantee that we'll find what we're looking for, no assurance that what we found unsuitable in the past will be corrected in the future. We remember because our lives were changed; because really, there's no way to forget.

This experience - looking back, remembering, missing - is different for everyone, and changes depending on the situation. Sometimes we look back with fondness, we're grateful for these experiences and these people. At times we look back with sadness and regret - we see missed opportunities, wasted time, and too many mistakes. Then there are the times when we look back and, for whatever reason and for however long, we wish our past was our present. Unfortunately, during some of these times we may even stop looking to the future completely - we may tell ourselves that there are voids that can't be filled, wounds that will never heal, and that happiness has passed us by - if we aren't careful we may experience fear and doubt to a degree that they become almost paralyzing.

I'm not telling you anything you don't already know - we're all familiar, to some degree, with these feelings and emotions, and usually know how to deal with them. I also don't have any life-changing solution to share with you (although I wish I did, if only for my own benefit. I'm sure your coping strategies are already more successful than anything I've come up with) - mostly, I think, I'm just walking myself through my own head, trying to sort through the mess that is my brain. And here's what I've decided

We need to remember - we need to look back. 

We have to look forward.

There are lessons to be learned from the past. Experiences and people that have shaped us, and taught us; corrected and protected us - these can't simply be forgotten, or ignored. We can learn from the good times and the bad - how to treat others, the type of treatment we each deserve, how to act and react in certain situations, how to avoid heartache and failure in the future, what we're looking for, what we now know we ought to become, weaknesses that need strengthening, and strengths that can carry us through the obstacles that are sure to come. As we look to the past we can discover a map for the future. We can discover ourselves.

I am convinced that the regret we experience - the pain we feel - will not be permanent. Ildefonso, the man from the beginning, spent 27 years without language - he didn't know words existed, he didn't know there were sounds, or names; he didn't know how to communicate with those around him, and nobody knows how or in what manner he thought. But, after 27 years of both literal and figurative silence, 27 years of what he described as darkness, he found language (or rather, language found him) - he found light. His old way of thinking, whatever it was, was eventually replaced by something better. He couldn't remember his life before language because the void was filled, because he found what was missing.

I am certain that the same will be true for us - voids will be filled, wounds will heal, and happiness will abound. I don't mean to suggest that we will forget every problem from our past, or that we will never experience regret again - I simply believe that as we do all in our power to move forward, things will work out. Lessons will be learned and we will move on. We will find what we're looking for, and so much more.

Our problems from the past will be replaced by the better things - the things we were looking for all along.

This is the hope that keeps me looking forward, even when I can't stop looking back.

I don't know how it will all work out, but I'm certain that it will. I believe that, and I hope you do too.

We've got to.

"It is for us to pray not for tasks equal to our powers, but for powers equal to our tasks, to go forward with a great desire forever beating at the door of our hearts as we travel toward our distant goal."

-Hellen Keller

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