Advice for Digital Immigrants
by Doug Bowen-Bailey
Making an Impact in the Age of Snapchat
This thought crossed my mind this weekend as I was working on adding the video abstracts and I saw this video. Seeing Dennis Cokely on my screen in this brief video felt like it was a Snapchat message. With his passing in August of this year, it is clear that he is someone who has made a huge impact in our field. Yet with his sudden death, seeing his face made me think about the ephemeral nature of life.
To see more about what Dennis contributed, check out StreetLeverage’s powerful tribute.
I must admit that as I approach 50, I think about my own legacy. Sending my children off to college has been a time of reflection for me. Perhaps my appreciation for Lin-manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton has also been on my mind. The final song ends with the questions: “Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?”
Very few of us will have the kind of legacy that Dennis does. Then again, we all leave our unique impact. Not long after I learned that Dennis had passed away, I listened to a podcast on dying well that gave me a new way of thinking about this. One of the people interviewed was Emily Levine, a comedian who is 74 and has stage 4 lung cancer, and who rebels about the idea of needing a legacy. Here’s what she had to say:
I’m ambivalent about it, I mean, aside from my daughter and my sisters and nieces, et cetera, and my friends. But on the other hand, I care about what I had to say. I think it’s important. So I guess I do want that remembered in some way. The thing for me is there’s nothing that gives me more pleasure than when someone else takes an idea of mine and makes it his or her own. I want the ideas to have a life and be remembered. I don’t care if it’s me.
Legends, like Dennis Cokely, pass on. Carolyn Ball (2013) has an entire book full of stories of the people and efforts that brought interpreter education to the place that it is.Another legend for me was Shirley Childress, the interpreter for Sweet Honey in the Rock. Seeing her work was one of the moments that inspired me to become an interpreter – and seeing an example of ASL being used as a means for access to artistic expression rather as being the focus of performance in and of itself. She passed away in 2017 and thinking of the words of the Senagalese poet Birago Diop which Sweet Honey in the Rock turned into the song, Breaths:
“Listen more often to things than to beings
Tis the ancestors breath when the fires voices heard
tis the ancestors breath in the voice of the water”
As I think about in the big picture, our lives are like Snapchats – here today and gone tomorrow – I hope that the ideas we all contribute can be remembered and carried on. That is, after all, what we are about with interpreter education. Passing on ideas to the next generation that will hopefully bring us to a better place in service to those people and communities who work with interpreters. Together, may our present day efforts be an honoring of the efforts of the ancestors who brought us to this place.
Ball, C. (2013). Legacies and Legends: Interpreter Education from 1800 to the 21st Century Edmonton, AB: Interpreting Consolidated.
TED Radio Hour. (2018, September 7) “Emily Levine: How do we make peace with death when it’s imminent?” [Podcast] National Public Radio. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=645343244
Sweet Honey in the Rock. (2017, March 7) “Art and Shirley: ’tis the ancestor’s breath.” Retrieved from http://sweethoneyintherock.org/art-and-shirley/