Once in a while, you come across someone in this world that is just genuinely a nice person. Someone that is patient, and kind, and supportive. My friend Gayle was such a person. Gayle died today after fighting with all her might against cancer. I count myself among a large host of people that are mourning right now for our friend that we, and the world, have lost.
I first met Gayle at the community college where I was taking classes in Sign Language back in 2000. I had taken ASL 1 the previous quarter, so I could sign my name, ask basic questions like "How are you?" and knew the signs for some foods and other vocabulary. In my first class we hadn't been allowed to use our voices except at specific times allowed by our teacher, who was hearing. The first time I walked into Gayle's classroom, I expected it to be similar. There was a lady standing at the front, greying hair, careworn face, with soft eyes and an easy smile. She moved slowly and deliberately, as if not to spook us in our first-day-of-class nervousness.
Her hands started moving, and suddenly someone sitting next to me started to speak! I glanced over and realized it was a sign language interpreter.. my someday goal. Gayle explained that for today, and for a few more classes, she'd have sign language interpreters to help us all get started. After that, we'd be on our own so we better learn fast!
Gayle was the first Deaf person I ever truly interacted with. She had been born hearing, and gotten ill and lost her hearing later in life. I never actually heard Gayle use her voice until several years later, when I volunteered to help interpret for the local Special Olympics where she helped coordinate. I hadn't even known she *could* speak with her voice, it just never occurred to me and in my head I had always "heard" her speak when she signed anyway.
Gayle was an awesome teacher. She had the patience of a Saint, repeating things over and over, and finding different ways of explaining things until we all could grasp what she was trying to convey. She had a great sense of humor, joking around in class and keeping learning FUN. You could tell she loved what she was doing, that she loved the language, and she was happy that we all wanted to learn it.
She gave us assignments that required us to *gasp* TALK to other Deaf people! I was brave and went to a Silent Weekend the college sponsored each quarter, where you couldn't talk all weekend, and instead it was hands flying with Sign, and me using a notebook and pen to try to ask people what they were saying. It was scary, and overwhelming, and yet as fun as hell and completely addicting. I went to almost every Silent Weekend after that. Gayle continued to help us all grow in our skills, I fell in love with the Language, and I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Over my years at college, I'd run into Gayle and chit-chat. My then-husband took ASL classes too, and had her for his teacher, so one year for Christmas we got Gayle the ASL Teacher Barbie toy as both a gag gift, and a homage. I think it really tickled her, I still have the matching one we bought at the same time for us. Every time I look at it I'm reminded of her standing up at the front of the room, with her hands dancing in patterns slow and elegant.
After I graduated, I started helping out with the Silent Weekends. I joined the committee, and once the instructor retired who had been running them (the amazing Chuck Gramly, who deserves a whole 'nother post), Gayle eventually took over the job. It was so much fun to be able to meet with a bunch of my friends, Deaf and hearing, and plan and scheme and just have a great time. Gayle brought her warmth and giving nature to these events as well.
I went through a really rough time in my life a few years back. With my marriage in shambles, my life in total upheaval, Gayle was like the Rock I could cling to in the storm. She was absolutely supportive, understanding, and sympathetic. She listened when I needed a friend, she didn't judge, and she was there for me. I thank God every day that I had the privilege to count Gayle as one of my friends. I have missed her since moving cross country last year, and now knowing she's not there anymore, my far-away Rock still teaching, breaks my heart. I'm glad she's at peace finally, but I sure feel sorry for myself and everyone else stuck here on this earth without her.
I love you, Gayle, you'll be sorely missed.