I Was Blind But Now I See
As a kid did you ever indulge in the foolish discussion, 'Would you rather be deaf or blind?' (The obvious answer is, 'Neither!' but that's not allowed.)
When I was about thirteen, I once played this game with my fellow non-athletes as we enjoyed a break on the fresh spring playing field of our English high school. When my turn came, in an agony of choosing, I conceded I'd rather be blind.
In those days what I did was ride horses on Saturdays and kayak at a center on the river one evening a week. About twenty of us teens mingled with the delightful ducklings and played fantastic skill games. We would hold our crafts together, then one pair at a time ease ourselves out of our seats, run across the slippery kayak hulls and swap seats with the other runner, trusting each other to hold the bobbing raft tightly together. It was easy to slip and fall in.
'You're never going to see again'
The river ran through the city center, a lovely old medieval out of the way place, but with its share of city rain runoff. And the kayak center was downstream from the chemical plant where my grandfather worked.
That spring I realized that my eyes did not feel right. Peering in the mirror one day, I saw that they looked cloudy. And when I next checked, it seemed the fog was spreading. With the arrogance of the young who think they're invincible, I took this in stride. But my overworked English doctor, handing us a referral to an eye specialist, offhandedly dropped the stunning news that I was losing my sight. He gave it three months to go completely.
Sitting on a bench in the grounds of the 900-year-old cathedral, I waited for my mother so we could visit the nearby eye specialist. At my back was the cathedral's comforting yellow-cream Caen stone, in front of me a plain English puddle, leftover from a quick rain shower. A bevy of happy English sparrows splashed there, cheerful city residents minding their own business.
Looking at those sparrows was the moment of impact when I grasped what I was losing. I open-mouthedly thought, "I will never see sparrows in spring splashing in a puddle again."
It wasn't the majestic historic building behind me, but this humble everyday detail at my feet, that seemed the biggest loss. I looked at the oblivious birds in a hungry new way, wanting to store up the details: the lavish beads of water, the intricate feathers, the tilt of their listening-for-a-moment heads. The sparrows couldn't have cared less about me. But I suddenly cared very much about them.
I open-mouthedly thought, "I will never see sparrows splashing in a puddle again."
The end of the story
From then on the story took a strange turn of multiple visits, raised doctors' eyebrows peering at me over medical notes. And prayer and faith and medicine all mixed up together in my foggy world. This was the response of my loved ones though, not mine: unfamiliar ripples through the formerly nonexistent spiritual life of my family.
That moment watching the sparrows became the focal point for me on which all the weight of losing my sight rested. It is all I remember. What I do know is that I emerged from the fog, literally, several months later with my sight restored. And a stunned family now interested in faith. while I shockingly kept the same ungrateful outlook on life that took my reprieve for granted.
It was only as I took my own journey towards Christianity a few years later, influenced by my newly transformed mother, that I appreciated the immense privilege of my sight, whole, intact and mine to use.
Today the sight of an inconsequential sparrow splashing in a spring puddle pulls me up short every time and never fails to bring me to tears. Seeing, today, is my whole life. Ironically, my first job, newly married and moved to the States, was as an editor at the National Braille Press, translating Houghton Mifflin children's books, the Washington Post Book Review and the Red Sox schedule, among other things, into Braille. I had to learn Braille in two weeks to read the blind proofreaders' notes.
Now as a mother of six, surrounded by the daily noise of life and lists and urgent, struggle and difficulty and blessing, it is to a sketchbook and to the joy of seeing that I turn most often to weave the thread of beauty through each day.
Seeing and sketching, recording and writing are golden threads weaving together all my seasons.
YOU COME TOO?
I do not have a storied art education or credentials as the world's greatest Urban Sketcher. But I do have a grateful passion for 'seeing' that causes me to find answers.
- How to fit it in
- Courage to draw each time I start anew and think, "Surely this time I won't be able to."
- And why it matters
You might want to walk along too.
Perhaps we can relieve the stress and strain of this crazy overstimulated world and recover some sense and order and peace together. When it came down to it, I really didn't want to be blind.