Deaf or Dead: an extraordinarily true story

By Jolanta Lapiak, 2003.

Video produced by Jolanta Lapiak, Ameslan literary media artist, December 2002.

For some of you who are wondering about the signed word "die/dead/death" in this video, it's a signed word in Polish Sign Language. This sign is kept in a special place in the story even though this story is told in American Sign Language (ASL), except for one word which is central to the story.

This video looks at cultural relativism of how humans perceive a certain angle out of possible multiple facets. It looks at the causes and effects of how past and future events connect and how events are colored, whether they were once thought to be wonderful or disastrous and later turned to be the opposite, depending on which time they are perceived from.

The story Deaf or Dead exemplifies a gift in disguise for its appearing misfortune (deafness) and a tragedy in disguise for what appears as a fortune (hearing).

That reminds me of the Zen parable "I don't know" about an old framer in a small village. The farmer lost his horse. The village felt sorry for him for his bad luck. The farmer shrugged, "I don't know." Next, the horse came back with many horses! The village commented how lucky he was. He remained neutral. Next, his son fell off the horse and broke his leg. The neighbours thought it was such a bad luck. The farmer didn't see that way. Next, the military officers came to the village to draft young men to be sent away for war, except for the son with his broken leg. The neighbours mourned for their lost sons. Each event has its both sides.

funeral at a burial
Photograph provided by Jolanta's cousin Sabina via Zofia.

The boy's four hearing childhood friends were buried at a cemetery in Ratowice, Poland. The little boy whose life was saved by being Deaf is my father. My paternal grandfather, who attended the funeral, is somewhere in this photograph, while my father was still at the residential school faraway.

Photograph: Jolanta Lapiak.

Every time my mother went to the cemetery to clean up her parents-in-law's tombs during my early childhood, I wandered or explored around and noticed the black and white photographs on the tombstones. I was puzzled by the child-age of four boys in the photographs, for I thought that only old people died. This tomb has been always in my childhood memories while growing up, because I wanted to know why and how the kids died at their tender age about the same age as I was.

Kazimierz's childhood

So, the deaf boy had to go to his residential school for the deaf faraway while his four best hearing buddies found an old World War II bomb and played with it. The bomb went off and the boys were buried together. My grandfather took a train to the residential school for the deaf to tell my father the news.

burial removed
Photograph by Zofia Lapiak.

Nearly 60 decades later, the burial was eradicated in circa 2017. Next generations may forget those boys and move on. But, this story lives on. If my father were hearing, he could be one of them and I wouldn't be here.

And, Handspeak wouldn't exist here.

Q: "What does that sign (dominant B-handshape on the left shoulder) mean?" A: It means DEAD in Polish Sign Language. This sign is kept in a special place in the story which is told in American Sign Language (ASL), except for one word which is central to the story.

Q: "Is your father still alive?" As of 2021, my Deaf father is still alive, age 70s.

"... a goose-bumping story."
"Wow, what a touching story..."
"Wow, a beautiful story."
"That is powerful!"

"Wow, what a beautiful story, and beautiful video! Such a gorgeous use of multi-media to enhance, but not take over, the ASL story-telling!"

"When I saw the title of this video, I was offended. After viewing it, I had a change of heart. The person in the video was lucky to be Deaf; otherwise, he'd be dead. This video compelled me to reflect on my life as a Deaf woman, the circumstances of being Deaf. The play on words, Deaf or Dead made me realize the importance of being Deaf." -- Teresa Fleming, April 2005.

"Jolanta Lapiak is an ASL inspiring storyteller!" -- Jennifer Furlano.

Related posts

You might like a video art Knowing Fish / Solipsistic Solitude: a poetic narrative in both English subtitle and ASL.