Get Uncomfortable

There are hands on my throat, hands on my guitar. I'm surrounded by people. I'm singing to a group of students who are deaf, and I'm not sure I'm doing it right?

A few months ago I was invited to spend time at the Utah Schools for the deaf and blind. I love these kinds of events. I love spending time with kids, and while I don't consider myself particularly inspirational, if someone happens to be inspired by me just doing what I love and having a good time, all the better. Naturally I was scheduled to spend time with the students who are blind. I must say, these are some really great kids. Spirited, smart, and inquisitive, I wish I could say that I gave them anything they didn't already have before they met me.

Over breakfast on the second morning, one of the teachers told me there were some deaf students who had seen me on TV lurking shyly, and asked if I would meet them and take some pictures. Two things happened at once. My internal monologue said: "...really? Why? Surely deaf students wouldn't be watching a singing show..." but out loud I said "I'd love to."

I followed the teacher over to a group of deaf students, my brain trying to predict the hilarious comedy of Helen Keller communication that was about to go down, and I'm pretty sure I said something to that effect. (Yes. I give you permission to laugh, 'cuz it's funny.) Despite my doubts, our communication went really well. Some of the students could read lips, some could hear a little, and there were plenty of translators to facilitate. I got to meet some really funny, outgoing kids who in my narrow mind, minutes before, had seemed completely out of my reach.

"Blessing, would you mind singing to the students? They'd love that," said another teacher.

Internal monologue: "umm, hmm, but, ..." Out loud: "SURE! ... how do I sing to people who are deaf?" (Sorry, was that too blunt?)

"Would you mind if the students touch your throat while you sing? That way they can feel the vibrations of your vocal chords," was the very logical response given to me.

So these amazing students, some of them teenagers, overcame the vulnerability that is inherent in asking for something you need, overcame this weird social stigma we have with touch, and in the process allowed me to take part in something that felt borderline spiritual.

As I sang, I could hear the students finding my notes in their vocal chords, matching my pitches, I could feel them rocking back and forth to the 6/8 tempo, and I could feel myself experiencing the power of music in a way I never have.

When you look at these pictures and this video, I hope you move beyond the instant sentimentality there. Yes you're seeing something beautiful. But maybe it's even more beautiful than you're giving it credit for.

What you're seeing are the fruits of a mutual willingness to experience momentary discomfort together. What you're seeing is the result of stumbling through what could have been a really awkward process if any of us had taken ourselves too seriously. But with some grace and a lot of laughter, we made room for these moments of vulnerable humanity to exist.

We've been so conditioned not to offend one another other that we often don't ask the questions that are burning holes in our minds. We've been so conditioned to be sensitive that we don't know how to receive criticism without creating a headline about it. We resist being taught and corrected, offended that someone would dare try to change our way of doing things, to open our mind to a perspective that may not be our own. Can we all try to be a little more vulnerable, and a little less threatened? Imagine how many moments like this would suddenly be possible if we opened ourselves up to difference, change, and a little bit of awkward.

So there I was, with hands on my throat and hands on my guitar, singing to a group of deaf students, not knowing if I was doing it right. But it wasn't about right or wrong. I was open, they were open, and we were made better for the experience. Changing the world has to begin with changing ourselves.

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