I decided to take an introductory ASL (American Sign Language) class this semester. I’m eight weeks in, and just starting to be able to hold some small conversations about the time, the weather, my mood, my family… the basics. My teacher has been starting the last number of classes by signing, “How are you?” and we each have to respond using sign language. As my teacher made her way around the room my classmates signed the typical answers: “Fine,” “Okay,” “Hungry,” “Full,” “Happy…” You can see the level of sign language that we know.
When she came around to me I signed back “I’m tired.” She asked me “Why?” I felt panic take over as I realized I could not answer. So I tried to wave her away and move on with class.
“Why?” she asked again, “Why are you tired?”
My eyes darted around the room; I didn’t know what to do.
“You did not sleep?” she asked.
I replied “Yes,” thinking that would be it.
“Were you out dancing?”
“Were you out partying?”
“Do you have relationship problems?”
I waved her off again and she finally moved on.
How was I supposed to explain to her that I hadn’t slept that night, and that really I have barely been sleeping lately, because of what has been happening in Israel? How was I supposed to sign with my eight weeks of ASL knowledge that every night, when I should be going to sleep here, my friends and family are waking up in my homeland and beginning another day of panic and anxiety and terror? How was I supposed to explain that it makes me uneasy to be in her class where I have to have my eyes on her the entire fifty minutes, and I cannot look down to see the updates popping up every minute on my phone? How could I say it stresses me out more than it usually would take my midterms because it means not looking at my phone for ninety minutes? How was I supposed to explain I had not slept because the night before I saw I had received harassing tweets for writing “I stand with Israel” and I was struggling to process how every time I write something in support of Israel I make myself vulnerable to backlash from those who believe in death and destruction more than coexistence and peace?
I barely know how to explain any of this in spoken English — the language I’ve been speaking since I was an infant. How could I possibly explain it to her using the hand signs in my fledgling ASL?
It crushes my heart to see on social media that my friends in Israel think that I, we, in America, are silent. I am not silent, but clearly my words are not being heard. The endless stream of shares and statuses and likes and comments on articles and pictures, and then the arguments or disagreements or discussions on each one, about the reality of what’s happening in Israel do not feel like silence to me. But they do to them.
And I really don’t know what I could possibly do to make them feel otherwise.
I just know that I’m tired, and frustrated and worried about it all: the stabbings, the shootings, the screaming and shouting, and especially the biased reporting… and yet I know that my worries hardly compare to what my friends in Israel are experiencing.
And so I stay tired. I don’t sleep. I stay up following the news. I stay up sharing articles and liking posts. I stay up talking to my friends living there, my friends who are doing their best to go about their everyday lives, while all around them terror reigns.
I know that they, too, are very, very tired.
And they are tired of being tired.