Today was the first time at the clinic; truthfully the first time being on the battlefront of a sidewalk battle that has its own palpable lines. There are two bunches; in which one is easily identified by the wearing of orange vests with ‘clinic escort’ printed on it and the other having something in their hand, either a bible, rosary beads or signs that one can easily determine being about anti-abortion.
That’s what people would see. Easily for one to interpret from the obvious clues, relying on their own worldview, putting the label of ‘bad’ or ‘good’ on either group.
I see more.
Due to not being able to hear, I rely furthermore on the other senses, especially vision. I’m aware of the surroundings, the shadows and lights upon the environment; the subtle movements of muscle; the posing of body signals; and the nuances of facial and body expression that are overlooked for the sake of tone and context of verbal language.
Before today, I knew I had an advantage of not being able to hear what antis repeatedly say to clients or escorts, with using the weapon of verbal abuse, and that would benefit me greatly during the time.
I was wrong. I had more assets than I thought.
What I mean by that is I noticed how each of the groups presented themselves in their own borders; how one group was mechanic and cold, stuck in its own echo, while the other group looked at each other as human beings, with warmth and fortitude.
Let me describe how I observed that in many instances today.
I was standing at the boundary of the clinic, in which antis are not allowed to go across, so they are everywhere within the peripheral range, mostly. They appear unapproachable, having a robotic, blank expression on their faces- eventually reminding me of the movie, “I, Robot”, the scene at a warehouse where you see a row of robots, still, silent and waiting for activation. They, like the robots in the movie, come alive, when clients are spotted in a distance, on a route that leads them to the clinic. That is when I noticed the desperation.
Desperate to be heard. Desperate to turn the client away from their decision, their human right to choose for themselves. One can observe the frenzy in the hurried pace of the antis, the anxious tension in the body, and the fierce menace in their faces. Even when the clients got safely away into the clinic, some antis stood in front of me and other escorts, invading into personal space. Desperation in their faces, staring at the closed clinic doors, and then the faces were then wiped blank before turning around to look upon their own members, assuming a semi-cheerful mask, with hints of coldness. Quite distorting when one watches.
The unheard shouting, the echoing statements, familiar to escorts, yet nothing to me. I can see their mouths babbling, but I understood nothing they were saying. Some targeted the escort next to me, all because they noticed she was able to hear. I watched the anti Donna talking to the escort, while avoiding eye contact with me. Pretending that I wasn’t existing just because they determined I couldn’t hear them. Their body messages so revealing, not worth their time, no sense in practicing browbeating antics on me. So from this perception, I drew that they are pretty much bullies living in righteous illusion, throwing their strength around, in a sense of giving themselves a futile sense of purpose. Take away the purpose of protesting, who are they then? Hence, their desperation exists.
On the other side, on the escorts’ side, there’s warmth. Amiable chatter, even when I don’t understand what was said, I can still pick up the sincerity in the face muscles, the affection between escorts. To empower us all, they got someone who can sign, ensuring that we all were able to talk. Welcoming friendship, unconditional. Reassuring and nonjudgmental in the relaxation of the body. The subtle nuance of genuineness in their movements. I noticed some escorts expressed concern yet giving space when clients seek shelter, pretty much like mother hens. Protective postures, sheltering the clients in an intense pace, pretty much a shot of flame through a cold tunnel, its unwelcome aura and reproaching echoes.
Being deaf, hence having a different language, different in human experience, the escorts distinguished me as a human being, a person of my own. Despite the limited communication, smiles were given to link humanity. Efforts to communicate through signing, paper and texting were their effort to say to the world, You’re here. I see you. The very same unspoken message they say to each client seeking a safe path to the clinic.
And that’s the difference between the antis and escorts from a deaf volunteer- and I can tell you safely, that’s what clients also pick up on when they are at their most vulnerable. That’s what we look for, to be recognized for who we are, during our most vulnerable moments, to be reminded we’re human beings with a right to our own choices.