I have often wondered how they learn to do it. Turn taking to them seems so natural, with no need to second guess their place in the sequence that runs so smoothly. Is it an innate gift that they are born with or do they have to learn by observing through body language? The invite of a smile or the slight nod of the head must give them the nudge to become the one who now captures the gaze of others. Could it be a metaphorical pass of the baton between the speaker and recipients’ hand that keeps the spoken marathon alive? It may even be the fraught expression in the eyes of the speaker that alerts the rescuer that they need to take over speaking to help save the awkwardness drowning in silence. Nobody ever tells you how to do it in conversations, turn take that is. They seem to be experts in a field that feels magical to me.
Listening intently for the emotion in the intake of breath, my ears try to decipher if it is inviting me to join in and respond, or are they just taking a breath in silence. Does the break in the conversation mean they are adjusting their body to deliver the punchline that expands on the unsaid? In the fraction of a second that dual loaded noise leaves their lips, my brain leaps into action to decrypt if the noise will lead to laughter or cries. Are they looking towards me for my views about the subject or are they looking into the distance to have time alone with their thoughts? Their eyes must be the lighthouses towards the cues in others, that scans for safety as well as the perils in the dance of the spoken world.
This confusion is always colossal in face-to-face situations, but even more so online where the mute button silences the rare cues that can help. The unhomely Zoom room that help many feel closer, distances many of us that are left guessing on what is connecting the avid participants. Maybe they are seeing something that aligns their minds but remains invisible to ours. The genius invention of connecting multiple people together at the same place and time regardless of where they are in the world can create unity and solitude in the same moment. The ‘us and them’ may always exist in every part of society regardless of how we try and change this. Diversity should be more about recognition than segregation as we learn to understand from a different perspective.
Being blind does not mean that my sight needs to be fixed, but it does mean that my world view can be changed from learning from the sighted. I will never pretend that I know what facial expressions mean in the context of a conversation as that is something I have never seen but I do know that a sighted person may explain to me something that I have missed. If I jump into a conversation halfway through a pause of someone speaking, I am crossing my fingers that they will understand that I did not know and was not doing it to be rude. When people use visual language in front of me and feel bad when they realize I cannot see, I take that as a complement not an insult as I feel included.
The basics of conversation may not seem like a barrier between the sighted and sight loss community, but it can be greater than you think. The life gains I feel sight loss brings does not extend to every part of life. Hiccups happen and misunderstandings are inevitable when we bring alternative knowledge into a world that we all share. Life would be boring if we all lived alike and never had another viewpoint. Being the blind one in a conversation with a sighted person, enlightens me to see the unseen which holds such beauty.