Man has always searched for knowledge. Dating as far back as recorded history can go, there are records of “libraries” in every civilization. Whether it was carvings on the wall of a Ziggurat in ancient Babylon, paintings on the wall of a cave, or books and modern-day Internet, human beings, in all stages of evolution, have set out to conquer the unknown, and to learn from our mistakes – by recording life experiences, learning to speak new languages, and allowing artistry and music speak for itself.
I was born with a thirst for knowledge. Being born and raised in the Huntsville, Alabama area under the influence of rocket science, NASA, and some very open minded relatives, I was given the opportunity to explore and research, even as a child in the 1970’s. Before the Internet, we had thick, heavy, leather bound encyclopedias. I still remember the smell of them as I sifted through the pages, getting lost in a world outside of my own. I think I read every one of the ones my grandparents had, cover to cover, by age ten! I was especially fascinated by anatomy, math, and language. One of my favorite hero’s in childhood that I first discovered within those pages, was a quirky little man named Albert Einstein. A world famous scientist, physicist, mathematician, and philosopher. I liked him because no matter how famous he became for his many discoveries, no matter how much he shook the world by breaking boundaries of known measure, he never seemed to lose a grip on his humble desire to help mankind. Later on in years, I learned to appreciate how he must have been misunderstood by his fellow man. As I grew older, I learned that being such a reader was not something most people enjoyed. But I wanted to read, because I wanted to be able to understand people, in all their cultural differences. This desire eventually led me to learn new languages and dive head-first into math and science.
When I was eleven years old, I had a strange loss of hearing in one ear. I say strange because it disappeared by the next year. Occasionally it reappeared for short episodes in my teens and early twenties, but it never stayed. However, I am thankful for my period of unique deafness. Because of it, I learned sign language It’s called ASL, but I don’t like that title. I don’t think someone outside of the United States would call it American Sign Language. I learned it because my (confused) ENT doctor told me I was slowly going deaf. I didn’t obviously, but thankfully my new found language was there with me to expand upon. I’ve used it to communicate over the years when I’ve been blessed to come across hearing impaired people in the many paths this life has taken me. Their response is always the same. General shock, that a hearing person knows their language, and then gratitude for not having to deal with the frustration that they probably have to live with daily, when dealing with the hearing public. To them, it’s a lifeline. To me, it’s just another tool for understanding.
When I was in high school, I was given the option of learning a new language as part of my graduation credit. Spanish was what everyone else was going for, so naturally I chose German. “Auf Deutsch!”, Frau Neidermayer used to say every time I would bust out in English during class by accident. German soon became the language I spoke even in my dreams for the next three years! All core subjects in school became easier to understand, thanks to becoming fluent in German.
The more I studied and expanded my vocabulary, the more the grammar became understandable, and then as that veil between languages thinned out and I matured over time, I learned a deeper aspect of being multilingual… language isn’t limited to speech. Language is unspoken, in everything. Math was a language that was spoken by everyone. I started to notice that we speak volumes with our eyes and facial expressions. Things in nature flowed without words. I remember thinking, when I was about 20 years old, “Why couldn’t we flow like that?” But it’s human nature to fight what comes natural. Natural didn’t come to me until I became a mother a couple of years later.
When my oldest child was three years old, I married an Iranian-American man. He joined the US Army when our oldest was barely two years old. Because of this, I ended up living more than four years in El Paso, Texas. If you’ve been west of Dallas before, you know that every sign and posting is written in Spanish before it’s written in English. Learning Spanish became natural. My oldest child learned it at lightening speed. She was between the ages of seven and eleven years old during our stay there. There’s also something unique to the area called “Tex-Mex”. I can only compare it to being the Taco Bell of Spanish. Not quite Spanish, not quite English – not enough seasoning to be Mexican, but enough to give you heartburn in that five month stretch of hundred-plus degree heat.
During the years in Texas I was equally blessed to home school my children. Becoming an educator was like a puzzle falling perfectly into place. I didn’t just teach them core subject matter. I taught them to have my love of learning. More than anything else, I wanted them to each have an open mind. I would rather them question everything than be trapped by never having the courage to ask why. After all, knowledge will expand friendships across cultures. Without the boundaries of communication barriers, you can conquer the division that has been the cause of generations of prejudice.
I encourage you to explore in whatever ways feel comfortable to you. Learn a language, taste a new food, savor a culture’s art and music, talk to someone you never expected to speak to. You might not realize it at first, but you’re helping someone by bridging the gap. Knocking down the Tower of Babel was God’s way of making us need knowledge to help each other. Reach out in whatever way you can.