Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of Tree of Life stories, in which artist Rita Fryer, of Tyler, accompanies her stories with original artwork.
Becky Minkel knows there is more than one way to say “I love you.”
Ms. Minkel is a sign language interpreter for the deaf and uses sign language not only in her work but as a way to express love, passion and joy in her own life.
Ms. Minkel explained that the deaf community has its own rich culture that is communicated with eloquence through sign language.
“Sign language is the prettiest language I know,” she said. “It is so expressive and can add so much meaning to how we communicate.”
Take the word “hallelujah.” The sign is actually a combination of the separate signs and meanings for praise, celebrate and heaven.
“Three great words joined to convey one awesome word,” Ms. Minkel said with a smile. “Signing adds clarity to language and brings your vocabulary to life.”
Ms. Minkel learned to sign while teaching kindergarten. She saw a notice about a continuing education program on signing and enrolled in the class.
“I thought signing would be a great teaching tool for kids having trouble learning by traditional methods,” she said.
And it worked.
Every one of her students responded well to signing, and one little boy, who was having difficulties identifying colors, learned them through this method.
It was also a great tool for developing focus and attention in her students and a wonderful way to work with kids with attention deficit disorder.
As her interest and enthusiasm for signing grew, Ms. Minkel expanded her reach.
For several years, she taught a continuing education class for hearing adults who had a need for or interest in sign language.
One woman, who was going deaf, enrolled along with her husband, so that they would always be able to communicate.
Today, Ms. Minkel is the owner-operator of Becky Minkel Interpreting Services and provides interpreting services for the deaf for job trainings, doctor appointments and educational trainings.
She also donates her services, signing the hymns at church and interpreting at weddings and funerals.
Ms. Minkel said she has always loved music, and signing the hymns gives music another dimension and makes it even more significant for her.
As I listened – and watched – Ms. Minkel explained and demonstrated different signs for me.
I find myself getting more and more excited. I think about how we all use gestures and body language to try and better express ourselves.
Personally, my mouth doesn’t work without my hands moving.
We even call it “talking with our hands.”
And our efforts do add some degree of meaning and emphasis to our words.
But for Ms. Minkel and others who sign, this is an art form. Meaning is refined, distilled and expressed with subtlety and eloquence.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all had this skill? Communication and the way we relate to each other is so important.
Rita Fryer is an artist who lives in Tyler