The writer, of Omaha, is an educator and speech/language pathologist.
I have been reading with great interest the recent Omaha World-Herald editorials about the importance of diversity in our community and in our nation.
I was born with facial differences because of a genetic syndrome.
Even with love and support from my family, as I was growing up, I didn’t know anyone like me in my neighborhood or school. I didn’t see anyone like me in movies or on TV shows.
The people I have met throughout my life, and about whom this essay is written, do not need and would not want me to be speaking for them. It is intended to express how my life has been greatly enriched, personally and professionally, by the experiences and circumstances and wisdom that these people who see, hear, move, think or speak differently have shared with me.
From people who hear with their eyes and their hands, I have learned the power of sign language to add to the beauty of spoken language.
From people who see with their ears, I have felt the power of being more attentive to the sounds around me every day.
From people who move more slowly or in different ways, I have known the power of slowing down so that I can appreciate the world around me, the power of learning how to adapt to everyday situations in creative ways.
From people who speak with their eyes, their faces, their gestures, their technology, I have felt the importance of listening to them share their lives and their interests, and of learning about things like fishing and basketball and trains, when together we create communication boards or books.
From people who remember earlier years better than what’s happening right now, I have learned the power of listening carefully to life stories, and I have heard in their voices and seen in their faces their pride of accomplishments as they have shared those stories with me.
From students who find language-based classes at school difficult to read or to understand, I have marveled at their artistic and technology creativity, and their sense of self-discovery as they recognize those talents.
A recent experience with being in a room of other people, but with the main speaker being in a different room with a different group of people, brought home to me the isolation of feeling alone, even amongst a group of people. That experience hit me like a thunderclap in appreciating how it feels to know that people are talking and laughing and sharing life, but that I, as an “outsider,” don’t know what they are saying.
As we as a community, a state and a nation go forth with our efforts at diversity, it is my hope that we can learn to understand “diversity” in all of its forms, and the beauty that can come forth in all of our lives, if we listen to each other’s stories and experiences. Recognizing that to bring us together, we need to ask (not tell) those who are feeling isolated what they think about what is needed, what words they find “judgmental” and what words lead them to feel accepted — that the life experiences they have had have been valued.
Paraphrasing what Omaha Police Lt. Sherrie Thomas said, “We need to hear each other’s stories.”