Communication: Use words when necessary.
Early in my “career” as a Special Service Agent for Eastern Airlines (yes… the original one) I had one of the most profound experiences of my life.
I was instructed via telex to escort a passenger being met by a representative from the Helen Keller Foundation. She was blind, deaf & mute. When the flight attendant placed the elderly woman’s hand on my elbow I turned to the woman and began to introduce myself. The flight attendant looked at me with a tilted head and side eye, then said; “She can’t hear you.”
To my 21-year-old surprise I simply forgot. So, I proceeded to walk her off the jet bridge, across the concourse to the designated area at the edge of the ticket counter. We waited for a few minutes when I noticed another young man pacing and tip toeing to get a view above the crowd. Up until now, the elderly woman had a stoic look on her face and was basically the epitome of expressionless patience.
I made myself more conspicuous and the young man approached. He asked;
“Is that Miss So&So?”
I turned to the woman and said, “Yes this is…” and he suddenly stopped me, motioned for me to turn to him, and said, “Please look at me because I have to read your lips.”
He too was deaf.
In the same instance that I’m realizing this is a very real blind-leading-the-blind moment I started to mouth off the woman’s name. At that very moment my curiosity was about to turn into the most profound surprise of my life.
The man took my passenger’s left hand from my elbow, gently reached for her right hand and placed them in what looked like a tent position in front of him. He then began to sign within her hands. He started using sign-language within her finger tips and palm.
Immediately, this woman with no expression, lit up like a Christmas tree and joy filled the space. She quickly replied in kind and I noticed the color of her face began to flush with a happy redness and the young man equally expressed joy by hugging her.
I stood there motionless with my mouth agape. In that nanosecond I recognized two things:
- Everyone wants to be heard, seen & acknowledged.
- Communication is available for everyone. There are no excuses for not being able to communicate with someone.
The young man (wish I remembered his name), reached into his pocket to give me a gratuity and I stopped him immediately and thanked him for the gift he just gave me. I told him; “I will never forget this moment. Thank you.”
I’ve shared this story a few times in my life and will continue to refer to it whenever I’m challenged by someone I can’t seem to connect with.
Who are you challenged by in the area of communication?
Have you truly “Tried Everything” or are you willing to try something else?
If Helen Keller, and those who find themselves with a physical ailment that prevents them from communicating naturally, can find a way…
What prevents you from doing so?
[Phil is the author of The 4 Step Plan & Prayers for the Living.]