While the proportions of “nature vs nurture” can be argued for the rest of time, we can all agree that individuals are a compilation of their experiences and choices. Two children from the same family can still have vastly different hopes, likes/dislikes, and aspirations. One element that has always stuck with me is the idea of “defining moments.” These are powerful experiences that greatly shape who we are as a person. Older family members and statistics will suggest a handful of them in a lifetime. These landmark moments can be significant career shifts, betrayal, life-changing inspiration, and really anything big.
Nothing really rises to my mind as prominently as one does. Here’s a little backstory...
Back in freshman year of high school, I auditioned for the school musical, West Side Story. This drama program was unique because they did all of their productions in the style of Theatre for the Deaf. I had never been exposed to American Sign Language other than a few letters of the alphabet. I was called back for the Shadow ASL Interpreters. Some of the roles (mostly the Puerto Ricans) signed themselves and the Jets and other roles needed to be interpreted. These Shadow ASL Interpreters were to be integrated into the choreography and blocking to follow their designated character(s). This video was a news story about the production that describes it in more detail:
Surprised to be cast, I was handed the goal of learning and memorizing an entire musical split amongst a handful of us interpreters. Adult licensed interpreters and Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing students glossed, or translated, the script and then taught us the signs we needed to know. I was utterly fascinated, not to mention a perfectionist. It took more than memorizing signs; it took body language and facial expressions to convey this language accurately. It was a lot of pressure and a lot of work. I am incredibly proud to have been part of this project.
Now to the defining moment...
One night, one of the interpreters that instructed us approached me. A Deaf man from the audience said that my signing performance of “Something’s Coming” (one of the first songs of the musical) was the first time he had ever understood music. Apparently he had gone on to say how life-changing this experience had been for him.
My 14-year-old brain was stunned. How could I have done something that significant? The director even said I was boring to watch. I’m not half-bad at signing but how could I have made an impact like that? Regardless of my teenage self-consciousness, something more important occurred to me. Maybe I could touch more lives if I got better at my craft? This thought process projected through every creative aspect of my life from then on but it was that moment that sparked it all. Whether it’s a calling from above or within, I knew that creating live theatrical experiences was my life’s pursuit and my purpose for being alive. In times when I have doubted myself and considered alternate paths, this moments reminds me why I'm here.
I find this topic relevant to share because I have just accepted a job position aiding the employment of the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing and promoting Deaf advocacy in the community. While social work was never a specific career pursuit, my passion for accessibility is part of who I am. I find it telling that after seven years away, working with the deaf is making its way back into my life. I look forward to this new adventure and to what defining moments this new chapter will bring.
I love any chance to hear what pivotal moments others have had that shape who they are. What defining moments have you experienced? Share in the comments below!
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Cover Photo by Simon Rae