Farewell To A Beloved

Dear Mom:

I’m so very sorry I have to say goodbye; that I have to let you go, and move on, myself, to wherever I am going.

You see, I couldn’t live, yearning for your flesh, hoping for your touch once more, to hold you, to give you a kiss.

When the sun sets, its warmth with it, dissolves into the deepening night, overcome by mists and dew. So too my knowledge of you, it seems, must fade into a deepening past.

When your body and blood transforms into memories, into beautiful stories of who you were while here with me, it allows me, though hollow now, to live again.

You’ve had to fade, though I didn’t want it, and I fought it, I promise you, but in the end, my life only solidifies now as yours dissolves.

But please know, that I love you just as much as I ever have, and am grateful to you for everything, and even now you are a gift to me; by taking your place in my past, you have given me my present.

With all the love I can muster,

your son,

Francis

Reflections on Three Days of Blindness: Part III and Conclusion

           “I just finished the painting. It was so scary to begin. Before I had even

            squirted any of the paint out, I was paralyzed—I might waste some paint,

            and one of my canvasses—but it was more than the fear of wasting five

            dollars worth of materials; this would be an expression of me. It would be

            my best attempt at art. There is always this fear before beginning any

            creative process, the fear that it might not be good enough, that I might

            not be good enough; it is only a little harder now since I’m not working

            with all of my faculties. The funny thing is however, even though I couldn’t

            see the art I knew I would still automatically assume it wasn’t quite right.

            Sure I’d be excited to see it but, I knew I’d also be telling everyone how much

            better could do. All of this was automatic in me even before seeing the results.

            With this painting though I was paranoid knowing that my hands could never

            equal the grandeur of the visions created by my mind. But then I realized and

            accepted this fact, that a hand is not a mind, and it works within its own

            limitations. At this point I felt free to paint and have a good time regardless

            of the outcome.”

 

As I read this I think how all of our life is a creative process, not just specifically painting or writing etc, and how easy it is to be paralyzed with this same fear of not measuring up, of failing, so to speak, and how effective these fears are at keeping us from even beginning to know who we are, and then, from exploring and practicing our art; the art of our lives. There is a method I now use to combat these fears, which is very effective; it is using fear to combat fear. I use the knowledge and fear that I will die one day as a counter to the fear of failing. Each day I meditate on the fact that my time here in this life is very limited, I will die, and I don’t have the luxury of waiting to do whatever it is I want to accomplish. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.  Somehow these thoughts give me clarity and are very encouraging, and motivating to my getting on with this creative process which is my life.

            “Later in the afternoon Tanya and Nicole were over and we played hide and

            seek in the backyard. Finding Nicole was easy as I was concentrating on the

            sounds she made as she hid. But finding Tanya was nearly impossible. I knew

            which part of the yard she was in because she let out a sound when I found

            Nicole, but finding her was very difficult. I kept hearing things that I was

            sure was her: up in the trees, next to the fence. But I couldn’t find her. After

            a long time she gave me a hint, a scratch on wood, and I was able to catch her.

 

            There is less than an hour now until I take the bandages off and I’m feeling

            kind of down. I almost don’t want to take them off. I’ve grown to like it dark.

            I don’t know why I would want to stay in this darkness but it has been new

            and I like the strange newness. It gets me out of a rut in a beautiful way. I

            don’t have to go out of town to do this, I can just cover my eyes and I am

            transported to another place; the most mundane things suddenly become

            important. It makes me really live this life, and not just drift through it.”

 

Blindness is like a break for the eyes, at least for someone only experimenting briefly with it as I was. Back in the late 1980s when I did the experiment we didn’t have the internet and smart phone, so now, even more so, our lives are extremely visually chaotic. Taking a break from all of that stimulation is a good idea.

            “What a drug sight can be; I just took the bandages off. I indulge in the visual

            now and almost fry my brain! Taking them off and seeing the sunset was some-

            thing I couldn’t have foreseen. It was more real and vivid and wonderful than

            anything I’ve ever seen. It was the ultimate in perception! I know that I won’t

            be able to aptly describe it on these pages but this is my best attempt. At first

            everything before me was blurred but only for a short time, and then I saw

            the tree against the background of the sky. Each small branch shimmered

            with its own life, an entity of its own. Deep, dark, blackness, so rich and deep

            like nothing I’ve seen before. Every twig, every limb, burnt savagely into the

            soft blue sky. And then the sun…the sun ducked down behind the trees and the

            bright halo arose from the dark mountain and filled the sky. It then began to

            shrink and as it shrunk it gained intensity until it burst and spurt brilliant

            light across the sky, across the valley, filling my vision with brilliance. What

            remained was a pastel yellow globe of light just above the horizon. To either

            side of the globe, just above the treeline, shot out a bright red line of light; it

            flickered and suddenly vanished. The blue and orange of the sky turned pas-

            tel. The air gained new life from the light of the sinking sun. A bird arose from

            the shimmering tree and shot past me. Then I turned to my left and saw the

            deepest, most crisp shades of purples and blues of the distant and not so dis-

            tant hills. And the hill I was on was pure also; it was green but it was also

            blue. It was both at the same time but it wasn’t confused or muddy; it was

            clarity. I had the feeling about my eyes as if the sights I was should be out of

            focus but all that I saw was crisper and richer than it had ever been. My eyes

            hurt but I kept looking. It struck be that everything I saw was alive and had

            just been born—the world was starting over, afresh! I then turned and looked

            behind me. There I saw my hill, the one I sit on all the time. The trees were

            black and green, all shades and hues, full and real; I was drunk with what

            I saw. Everything reached out and touched me, nothing stayed still, it all

            reached out to me: the purple hills, the dark green trees, my hill, the burnt

            black tree, the sky, and the light of the disappearing sun. All these reached

            out and stung my eyes. I turned to my right and there was a girl. She was

            so small it seemed but also so big. She was beautiful. Her eyes light blue,

            dark blue rimmed, and happy. She was so close but she also seemed very

            far away. I couldn’t touch her but I was glad she was there and I know I

            talked to her but I don’t know what I said, something about the beauty

            around us. This feeling didn’t go away as it seems it would, like so many ter-

            rific things do, but it stayed with me and surrounded me and caressed me

            for a long time. I saw in this way and I felt complete.”

  

Conclusion of My Experiment with Three Days of Blindness:

            “It was an overwhelming experience. I am so glad I got to ‘see’ it. I feel very

            lucky. Now I can see and I don’t know if I care. Sure I don’t run into walls

            or trucks anymore, and I think that’s a good thing, but I feel as if I’ve lost

            something important. I look at my painting and it looks so different than

            I had intended it. It is very beautiful to me. The colors aren’t exactly what

            I thought they would be but it’s a bubbly surprise. Now I reenter the com-

            plicated world of sight where it isn’t good enough to spend an hour making

            breakfast. Things like that are miniscule in this world. They don’t matter,

            they are the mundane, the ‘so what’ of this world. How could I justify

            spending an hour touching the canvas and the paint of my art? Just drink-

            ing in the texture and communing with the colors—realizing the import-

            ance, the relevance it has in my life. Sure, what I think about it is the most

            important thing, and if I think it is alright to do this than it is. Although,

            what other people think is important as well. For many, this isn’t a univer-

           sally acceptable way to spend one’s time. So it is therefore hard to feel

           entirely good about doing it. But while blind, all of these supposedly unim-

            portant things become and are important, meaningful and worthwhile.

            No-one can say otherwise and I feel content with this simplicity. Now I’m

            in the harried world of sight where we are stimulated by too many things.

            We must rush off to school or to work, I have work to get done, I must be

            in certain places at certain times, and there is television and newspapers

            and books to read, shows to see, and sports to enjoy. I think that there is

            too much to think about, too much stimulation. I’m not entirely glad to

            have my sight back. It means jumping back into this whirlwind that we’ve

            all been spinning around in so long. A whirlwind that’s got us dizzy and

            confused, and that stirs up the dust and leaves us with tears in our eyes.

            The tears of our souls crying to escape this tormenting tempest.

 

            I wonder if I’ll still have the vivid visions of the eagles and the beautiful

            pictures that my mind created during these past few days. I would hate to

            lose that.

 

            What satisfaction I felt from making my meals or making some cookies.

            It seems it would be the same, the feeling of fulfillment, if I had a plot of

            land somewhere and I could wake in the morning and build maybe a part

            of my home, maybe the bathroom today or a windmill for energy. What

            satisfaction that would be, and to plant the seeds that would sometime

            later be my food, and to write and paint and cook—how simple. How

            meaningless and wasteful…but it isn’t. It is simple and it is pure, and whole

            and unscattered, and unhurried, and easy to keep everything in front of

            me. Not confusing; just peaceful…

 

            It was a wonderful experiment and a great ‘vacationland’. Instead of

            travelling far away I travelled within and found a whole world of mir-

            aculous sights and breathtaking beauty—a land that reached farther

            than the eye can see, and that holds more to do than the greatest family

            amusement park. It is a land whose limits exceed infinity and whose

            treasures I’ve only just begun to dig up. This land of wonder is my mind.”

Humility

Humility is such a simple friend, sitting patiently, always at our side. He holds the key to our freedom and will open every door. When we’ve done wrong, he is there to ease the shame; tossing copious flower petals thick upon the ground, and softening the pain when we fall to our knees. He turns the abhorrent word, repentance, into a beautiful action that makes all things pure again. Some men, in their foolishness, imagine him to be a doormat, which others will wipe their shoes on, or trample across as they go about their business. But they don’t see, and can’t understand, that humility is the strength which gives us the power to face any challenge, find victory in any difficulty, and to soften any blow. Humility is an outstretched net, catching us softly when we fall from the heights of our pride. He is like a beautiful butterfly, with outstretched wings carrying us to safety from the depths of an abyss. And if we fall into an abyss, and find ourselves in despair, humility is also a ladder by which we climb up and out and back into the sunlight. Humility is an open door and such a simple, loving friend, always ready to help and loyal to the end.

~FS

The Thief Who Gave It All Back

It was getting dark as we finally pulled into the parking lot. In the van with me were a group of fifteen college students from Colorado State University who had come to Seattle for a week to work on a service project over their spring break.  They were excited to be here but were also tired from their flight, and ready to see where they were going to be staying for the coming week.

 

Their accommodations were on the second floor of the Mennonite church building in town.  The church is situated in an urban environment amidst low-rent apartment buildings, thrift stores and car dealerships. At night, it is probably safe, especially if you are in a group of fifteen, but it is still a good idea to keep an eye out for potential trouble.

 

This particular year I was working for the church, coordinating service programs. So it was my job to welcome this group, show them around, and be available if they needed anything.

 

We piled out of the van, loaded ourselves with duffle bags, suitcases, and sleeping bags and trekked across the parking lot to the church.

 

In my mind I was running through everything I needed to show them about the building; the location of the shower, the bathrooms, the kitchen, which door to enter through and which one to leave closed and locked…when I saw, coming out of this very same door, someone who shouldn’t have been.  In his arms he was carrying a microwave oven and stuffed poorly into his backpack was a portable stereo.

 

He glanced our way and then hustled quickly around the corner of the building with his new acquisitions.

 

It is a rare thing to catch someone in the act of stealing so my mind didn’t immediately register what I had just seen. Was he really stealing from us? I asked myself. Maybe I know him. He probably attends the church and I just didn’t recognize him in the fading light. I rationalized. But then, why did he scuttle off so quickly in the opposite direction after seeing us coming towards him?

 

I decided he was definitely a thief so I sprang into action. I quickly told the students that we were being robbed, handed them the keys to the building and told them to go inside and make themselves comfortable as I dashed off after the intruder.

 

I caught up with him not far down the street and confronted him. “What are you doing? Those are our things you are taking from the church.”

 

“No they aren’t,” he replied.

“Of course they are. I can tell you exactly where they came from. That microwave in your hands is out of the youth room, and the stereo is also.”

 

“They’re mine.”

 

“But I just saw you coming out of the door of the church.”

 

“No I didn’t.”

 

“I see those things everyday. I know you took them.”

 

As the conversation proceeds we continue to walk down the darkened street.

 

“Look”, he said as he turned to face me. “Do you want me to just smash this over your head?” He gestured to the microwave.

 

He looked menacingly at me and I took him at his word.

 

“No. I just want you to return them.”

 

He started walking again and I followed alongside. “Okay. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they are yours and it is just a crazy coincidence. Come back to the church with me and we’ll look at the location I think they belong. If the microwave and stereo are there then I apologize.”

 

“I’m not going back,” he snapped. “Just leave me alone.”

 

“I’m not going to leave you alone. You have our things.”

 

No reply. We walked a moment in silence. Who knows what he was thinking, but my mind was racing trying to come up with the key to unlock this situation. The line I was taking wasn’t working.

 

“What do you need?” I asked him.

 

“Money.”

 

“I understand…look,” I said, “I don’t want you to have to steal for it and you don’t want to steal either.”

 

He didn’t answer.

 

“I know you don’t want to steal. Not really.”

 

We walked a little further and he stopped. We were standing under a dim streetlight, at a corner where two roads met. I pulled out my wallet, opened it, and counted to myself what I had.

 

“I have forty dollars. You can have it.”

 

His expression changed, softening for a moment. Then he looked suspicious.

 

“Why would you give me that?”

 

I thought for a moment, and in that space of time, God gave me love for him.

 

“Because I love you. God loves you too. I don’t want you to have to steal.”

 

He looked at me for a moment, evaluating me in some way unknown to me. And then he asked, “If I didn’t give these things back would you still give me the money?”

 

That was a great question. I paused to think about it. The answer had to be yes or my ‘love’ was going to look pretty cheap. But the answer also had to be true because I was sure he would have seen right through me if it wasn’t. In any case I didn’t want to cheapen this brief relationship with a lie.

 

I imagined the possibility that I gave him the money and he kept the stolen property. I didn’t know how that would eventually turn out but I made myself okay with that chance and told him so.

 

He considered my response. I offered him the money, reaching out to him. He thought a bit further and then really surprised me with what he said next.

 

“Let me carry these things back for you.”

 

“Really!? I asked, “I can take the microwave for you.”

 

“No. I want to carry them all back for you.”

 

So he turned around and began walking back the way he had come, retracing his steps back to the door of the church. I turned and walked alongside him yet again. On the way back he began talking, and talking, and he didn’t stop talking for a long time.

 

“Nobody has ever loved me. No one says they love me. My dad never loved me. I can’t believe it, that you love me. I’m just passing through town. I don’t have a home and I don’t know anyone here. You know if someone just would have loved me. That was really cool. Thank you so much for the money. I really need it.”

 

“No problem.”

We stopped in view of the church and he looked at me. “Can I give you these now? I don’t want to go back there.”

 

“Sure.”

 

He handed the microwave to me and then took off his backpack and pulled the stereo out and placed it on top of the microwave in my arms.

 

“You’re welcome to come and join us while you are in town. I won’t tell anyone who did this so if you come in on Sunday no one will know you. It’ll be fine.”

 

“Thanks. I probably won’t be around.”

 

We exchanged a few more pleasantries and then he waved goodbye, turned and walked into the darkness.

 

I watched him go and then walked back to the church. I thought to myself, I’ve met several thieves in my life but I’ve never before met a thief that gave it all back.

 

I felt that God really taught us both a lot that evening. I was surprised to find the person that emerged when he was treated with kindness instead of anger. Though he acted despicably at first by stealing, he was treated with dignity, and in the end this allowed him to respond with dignity and with grace.

 

I praise God for teaching us the value of love, and the practical way that it can make a bad situation good.

 

~FS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections on Three Days of Blindness: Part II

 Day Two of My Experiment with Three Days of Blindness:

            “I can’t believe I’m doing this. I woke up blind again this morning and today I

            feel left out. I feel like I’m missing out on a lot of things everyone else can enjoy.

            It’s a beautiful day, I can feel it, but I can’t see it. I’m listening to a record and

            feeling good right now though. But I do feel less human. There is no doubt I’m

            experiencing a different reality then either Shannon or Nicole. The three of

            us are in my room and it feels nice. I try to smell the flowers I got for Valentine’s

            Day today but I can’t smell either; I’ve got a cold. I try covering my ears for

            a moment—complete darkness and silence. No way! That is intense, I don’t

            want to try that. I’m glad I can hear, the music gives me power. I can feel

            powerful listening to the music. It fills me with some kind of reality—commun-

            ication. Not with eye contact, but through the voice. Music is the same whether

            you can see or not.”

 

This entry reminds me how important communication and sharing together is to our mental and emotional health. It is easy to take for granted, while we have it so available to us, but when we are deprived of the opportunity to communicate and share, even silently perhaps as we sit together in a room listening to music, the isolation we can feel is very intense and demoralizing. I expect we all know someone in an isolated place, in a convalescent home hoping for a visitor, or shut-in at home for health reasons, or just socially unable to relate with others very well. There are so many cases and so many opportunities for those of us who are enjoying our healthy lives to reach out and communicate with those who aren’t enjoying the same state of wholeness and who need our communication.

Now it is their need, but it will likely be us someday, in the future, that will be in need, and I can assure you, when that time comes, we will hope that somebody cares enough, and has thought enough about this, to reach out and communicate with us when we are alone, or blind, or shut in. The truth is we are all in this together, we are all of the same fabric, the same blood, two sides of the same coin, and we need to care for one another with the same concern we give ourselves.

            “I went to hear ‘Little Shop of Horrors’, a play being done at the high school.

            My friends Zaidi and Galen picked me up and we went together. ‘I don’t think

            it would be this lighthearted if you were going to be blind forever,’ said Zaidi,

            ‘but it should be. It seems like you could just take it one day at a time, like you

            are now, and keep a light heart.’  It does seem like it should be that way. I sup-

            pose that is enlightenment. I don’t know if I’d have such a positive outlook if

            this was my forever future. It’s a novelty right now, but it wouldn’t be novel if

            it were permanent.

             Inside the theater I spoke with many people before the show, and could recognize

            most voices: John’s calm, methodical and rhythmic voice, Randy’s grainy voice,

           Arwen’s musical voice. I hug Mia; she gives great hugs. At intermission I met Arnold.

          Arnold has a handicap, a speech impediment and maybe some other things,

          I’m not sure. I’m lucky to run into people like him.

 

         We had a talk about handicaps and what I’ve learned from this experience so far.

         I told him how scared I’ve been at times, and how alone I’ve felt, and my feeling

         that people didn’t want me around, like I was intruding on their little romantic view

         of a perfect and clean life. No ugliness.

 

            I relayed to Arnold my experience at the grocery store and how when I said hello

            to the check-out lady, she barely acknowledged me and uttered a forced response.

            It happened though that the bagger was a friend and he recognized me and asked

            me what I was doing. After I explained my experiment, the cashier then asked me,

            ‘So are you into forced torture?’

 

            I told Arnold that it seemed to me when people thought I had a permanent disability

            it scared them and they treated me poorly, like I had a contagious disease, but once

            they understood I was just pretending, then they treated me slightly better, but still

            considered me to be a strange person.

 

            Arnold advised me, ‘You have to see the people’s fear, you mustn’t see their anger

            and their hatred, you must see that they are afraid. They are frightened when they

            see something that isn’t like them. They don’t understand.’

 

            I agreed with him, but lamented that they are also afraid to try to understand and

            to bridge their differences. I guess everyone lives in the darkness of fear. Well, no,

            not everyone.

 

            After the show is a good time. Everyone is always in a good mood. Jeff picks me up

            by the legs, Tanya takes my arms, and others lift me up and onto their shoulders.

            They transport me through a maze of rooms and around groups of people. Once

            again, I almost feel like I can see. I visualize some rooms are well lit, others are dark

            and cold, some are intimate and others larger. I can feel the shadows, I can touch

            and hear my friends.”

 

Day Three of My Experiment with Three Days of Blindness:

            “I’m still blind. This is the last day. Tonight I take the bandages off. I’ve been having

            the most beautiful images in my head. They are so colorful and vivid. Pictures of

            skies drawn along by the tails of eagles. Illuminated rock walls, shimmering golden

            alongside the deep reds of fallen leaves. An eagles head stares me in the eyes, a

            faint vision before me. A translucent image but strong and full; it comforts me

            and calms me. Another eagle swoops down out of the sky. Full, thick cumulous

            clouds in pastel colors, things I’ve never seen in this way before. I hope I still

            see these things after I regain my other sight. These new visions are wonderful

            although I still run into walls.

 

            Yesterday I went to the beach with mom. We drove up to Goat Rock near Jenner.

            It was a great day. The sun was warm and the kids of the beach were having fun.

            The sounds of the beach travelled so well, I could hear things a hundred feet

            away as if they were right beside me. The crackling of a plastic bag, the shuffling

            of the sand by a walking seagull, and the roar of the ocean.

 

            The birds are chirping right now outside my window and a plane is flying overhead.

           It is still morning. My breath is calm and rhythmic like you might expect your breath

         to be on a morning with no worries. There were planes at the beach also, four of them.

            They flew low, I think they were searching for something. The faint roar of their

            engines slowly closing in over me and flooding my ears, then subsiding, allowing

            the crashing of the waves to once again take center stage. The yell of a Frisbee or

            beach ball player explodes from my left. Mom and I eat yogurt and bananas and

            enjoy the warmth of the sun. Before leaving we walk to the edge of the sea. I hear

            it in front of me. It starts with a soft but full-bodied gush which builds up to a

            crackle, something like the static on a radio, and grows into an entity all its own—

            the powerful roar of the ocean and the crashing of the water as the waves pound

            against the sand. Then the fizzling of the foam as it sneaks its way up to my feet.

            It sounds like hamburgers cooking on the grill and I see this in all its red glory,

            the grease bubbling and frying in my mind, sizzle, the meat redder than the red-

            dest red of the sighted world.

 

            What accounts for this extra color in my minds-eye?

            Does God feel guilty? Is this his way of making it up to the blind? I wonder if all

            blind people can see colors in their minds like I can? (Note: Several days after

            writing this I met a blind man named Ken at the Junior College and I asked him

            about visualization and his perception of colors. Did he see colors, magnificent

            colors, brighter than life? Yes, he did. From what he remembers of how the

            world looks and from the visions he holds now in his mind he said yes, that his

            images are probably a lot more beautiful and colorful than they would be if

            he could see. He was blinded six years ago. I wonder what the blind from birth

            see. I bet they can visualize colors too.)

 

            I made chocolate chip cookies last night and they came out good. It is really

            not all that difficult to do. Last night I also felt the helplessness of the sightless.

            Alone in the house, having just made my tofu and bean burrito, I sat in the

            darkness of the livingroom. I listened to the music filling the room from the open

            balcony door above. What is someone was in the house? I would be completely

            at their mercy, even if it were a friend, they could still play with me and scare me.

            It sounds like footsteps upstairs as the music ends. I can’t take these band-

            ages off. I’m really blind. A clanking sound from the kitchen adds to my fear

            and my breath grows deeper and louder. The stillness enters my body and

            freezes there, stiffly. I hear crunching, a crack, and another crunch. It’s the cat.

            I hear a tongue in motion and reach out to feel the fur of our kitten. ‘Meow.’

            What defense did I have if it was someone? I couldn’t even run away.

 

            From my experience, in regards to eating and drinking, I think blind people

            should use plastic cups and no utensils. The hands work perfectly well for

            eating. It might seem primitive and barbaric but its also utilitarian and that’s

            what matters.

 

            I’m going to paint one of the images in my head using the new acrylics I

            bought. It should be interesting and exciting! I memorized the order of the

            paints before I put the bandages on so I would know what colors I’m using.

            In the front row, from right to left, they go: white, black, yellow, magenta,

            scarlet red, deep brilliant red. In the back row from left to right: bronze

            yellow, light blue, dark blue, light green, dark green and purple.

 

            To use the telephone I center my three middle fingers on the center row of

            numbers, with the middle finger on the five, then using the relationship I

            know between this and the others I make the call.”

 

To Be Continued…

Reflections on Three Days of Blindness-Part I

Reflections on Three Days of Blindness—Part I

Thirty years ago I experimented with being blind. I covered my eyes for three days and lived briefly as a blind man.

The questions occurred to me when I was eighteen, several months out of high school, while contemplating my life and the world around me: “What must it be like to live in this world, for people who are blind? I wonder how I would manage if I was blind? I wonder how they manage?”

I would like to share my discoveries from that time with you, the answers that I learned to these questions. Because the answers, I think, have value not only for those who wonder what it might be like to be blind, as I did, but also for anyone wondering about the unknown, frightened perhaps a little about change, or fearful of what the future holds in this life or the next. And for anyone desiring to bridge the gap between themselves and those who are different from them, the results of this little experiment also might be useful.

The means of making myself blind were simple and very effective. First, I covered my eye sockets with cotton balls. Next, I covered over the cotton balls with large gauze pads, and then I used surgical tape to tape down all of the edges of the pads to my face, sealing entirely around the pads which covered my eyes. Lastly, I put on sunglasses. This last step was entirely for cosmetic and reasons of vanity, because, after the first two steps I couldn’t perceive even the tiniest trace of light, shade or shadow, so the sunglasses were completely redundant and superfluous. But they made me look good, so I thought, and I was eighteen after all; sunglasses are cool.

During my three day experiment I kept a detailed journal: tracking my activities, my thoughts and feelings, and my conclusions. It is mainly from this journal that I would like to share with you my journey and discoveries. In some cases, I’ll paraphrase or provide commentary as I look back on the experiment from the vantage point of a forty-eight year old adult, but in most cases I’ll let my original journaling speak for itself, in the original voice as I wrote when I was eighteen. I will set these original entries in quotes, and italicize them, so as to clearly delineate what is from that time, from what is my current commentary.

 

Prelude to Day One of My Experiment with Three Days of Blindness:

Awaiting blindness, Friday night, February 12, 1988. 11:00pm. is something

            like what I imagine awaiting one’s execution might be like. As I wait, I try

            to indulge my senses as one who was about to die might enjoy and cling to his

            last meal, or his final breath. I’m scared, even though it isn’t permanent. A dark,

            dark prison is what it might be like, or maybe it’s really a doorway to a greater

            consciousness, a larger freedom. Who knows—I don’t. I’m writing this before

            my evening reading and meditation which, when I’m done, will be followed by

            covering my eyes for the duration of three days—a relatively short time but

            enough time, I think, to glimpse into the world of darkness, to somewhat

            feel what it is like not to see. I will uncover my eyes on Monday the 15th at sun-

            set, on the hill overlooking my home and surrounding neighborhood. Until

            then these pages will be written by a seeing man who doesn’t see. Or does

            he? Goodnight.”

 

Day One of My Experiment with Three Days of Blindness:

            “I am feeling very frustrated. There are so many things I can’t do. I am constantly

            running into things or knocking them over. I’ve broken a glass and spilled a lot

            of water today. Victories include riding my unicycle around the block and walk-

            ing around Safeway to get some whipped cream. In both cases, I was accompan-

            ied by my good friend, Nicole. However, I felt very isolated at the grocery store.

            I can’t help but feel that people with handicaps aren’t liked by those without them.”

 

Looking at this entry and remembering back to that grocery store visit, I can still recall a sense that I had of being looked at in a way that felt like unkindness, and even though I couldn’t see them, I felt that people were uncomfortable with my presence.

            “This is still my first day of blindness. It’s about 6:15pm. I am fairly certain about

            this because I’ve guessed the time within 3 minutes of accuracy throughout the

            day today. The ability to know the time is still amazingly precise even without

            eyesight. I remember when I was younger, closing my eyes and walking slowly

            towards a wall, and I remember as I got closer to the wall, within a few feet of it,

            I could begin to sense that it was there. I could feel a darkness, a slight pressure

            exerted upon my face. The same is true today, but to an even greater degree.”

 

I don’t know why I was able to know the time so accurately, or how it is I could feel the wall from a distance. These, and many other experiences forthcoming are unexpected, and seem to show abilities in perception that we possess, of which we are not normally aware.

            “Earlier this afternoon I pulled out my unicycle and decided to try it out. The

            wheel was a little flat so I’d be riding slower than usual, but that was okay

            with me since I couldn’t see where I was going. It would have been impossible

            to do had I been alone, but Nicole was over today and she helped me.

 

            At first it was really hard. I was shaking because I was scared, and I couldn’t get

           on. Eventually I got going, went a little ways down the street, chickened out and

            jumped off. I walked back to about where I started to try again. To get my bear-

            ings I walk to the side of the road and count the number of steps across. The mid-

            dle of the road is seven steps from the curb. After a few more short journeys I

            begin to gain confidence. With Nicole in front of me I follow her voice and begin

            the long trek around the block.”

            

           “A car is coming up the street, so I get off the unicycle and walk to the side of the

            street. Apparently sensing, without sight, when something is in front of you, is a

            skill that requires concentration and some perfecting. I haven’t. I walked full-

            force into a parked truck. It was actually funny and I’m sure the people in the

            passing car enjoyed it also. Nicole laughed.

 

            Again, I centered myself in the street, mounted my unicycle and took off follow-

            ing her voice around the block. Rounding the curves are the best part; they

            seem a lot harder than the straightaways. In complete darkness I rush forward,

            trusting my guide’s voice, feeling very free in my solitary world.

 

            Around the second corner, and back up the other side of the block. I can hear

            kids playing something up the street. Distracted by this, I falter but maintain my

            balance and continue. By now both Nicole and I are comfortable with the sit-

            uation and I begin to speed up. Around the third corner and feeling great, only

            one more to go and I’m home.

 

            I’m not sure what happened, but Nicole didn’t tell me about the van. I was

            moving at a pretty good clip but apparently also veering slightly towards the

            side of the road. Suddenly, before hitting it, I did feel something very big right

            in front of me. I stalled, spun and dismounted. Reaching out with my arm ex-

            tended I felt with my hand the cold metal of the vehicle. I felt very lucky having

            somehow escaped a potentially messy situation. But how did I know it was

            there in time to stop? I was at least three feet away when I first felt it, probably

            more. This ability to sense objects in our paths without seeing them isn’t just a

            theory, it is definitely a reality and it just saved me. The world of the blind is

            not a sightless world.”

 

Looking back on this, I remember at the time, the most memorable aspect of this experience was the adventure, and the freedom of facing the darkness and my fear, and overcoming them.  That is still an important lesson for me, but now I’m particularly struck by the togetherness and friendship that Nicole and I had, as we faced this adventure, and as she helped me overcome what I couldn’t have done on my own.

            “Vision. It is important to imagine and to create images to compensate in a

            way for what I can’t see. To be able to picture in my mind what my surround-

            ings look like is crucial. I wonder what people who were born blind can picture?

            I bet a lot of their imaginings, their images, are better than our reality. I wonder

            if they would be let down to really see. To get a good look at the pollution in the

            air above Santa Rosa and the disgusting trash that lines every road and even

            invades the innocence of my hill. No, I bet they would love to see even that.”

 

             “Memory also plays an important role in my blindness. It goes hand in hand

            with visualization. Remembering where things are and how they are organized.

            In the kitchen I visualize the counter, set down my glass, walk to the stove, turn

            the knob one-quarter turn to the right, crack the eggs and cut the tofu…do I

            remember where the seasoning is located? Yes, it is in the front of the rotating

            dolly on the shelf above me. Add it to the eggs and tofu already cooking, return

            to the counter…remember, and save the glass that I left there…forget, and break

            it.  I’ve done both today.

 

            Visualize the toothpaste going onto the toothbrush. Good. Do I remember what

            my mom looks like? Yes, of course, it hasn’t been that long, but if I was blind

            for a long time I would wish that someone would care, and understand enough

            to ask me to tell them what she looks like. Or ask me to describe a banana, and

            to explain what green is and where it is found. I mustn’t forget and neither

            should anyone else.

 

            Luckiest event today—having forgotten the car was parked in the driveway,

            visualizing an empty driveway I walk across it to the garage. Somehow I missed

            the car and made it safely to the garage. I had visualized myself walking up the

            middle of the driveway, I guess I was wrong.

 

            End of my first day. I’m tired.”

 ~FS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           

 

           

           

 

Gluttony

It isn’t so much the quantity, but the manner in which we eat, that is the greatest problem for our souls. A smaller person will obviously need less food than does a larger person, so if the larger person eats a greater quantity of food this doesn’t make him a greater glutton. It is very possible the larger person, while eating a copious quantity of food, could do so in a manner, and with a spirit more focused on God, in virtue, than the smaller man does in eating his biscuit or loaf of bread.

Let us always keep God foremost in our minds, with thankfulness, as we eat our daily bread. And not eat mindlessly, simply shoveling it in without thought or gratitude, being mindful of how much is enough for us, stopping before we are filled to our limit. For even with a good mental outlook, a full belly can still be an impediment to our peaceful communion with God, instead, leading to scattered thoughts and a scattered way of living.

~FS

Chapter 4: A Different Point of View

Chapter 4—A Different Point of View

Up until now I’ve told you Fritz and Rocco’s story essentially from my perspective, merely that sliver of life which I can see and understand.  But in truth, there is so much more to their story, so much more beyond what I can tell you on my own, things such as what it is they say to one another in their doggie language, or what is the content of their dreams, and what adventures do they get up to when we’re not around?

These things are true and real, and just because I am unable to express them to you myself doesn’t mean they don’t exist. And since they do exist, and are part of their story, I think they are things that you should know.

So I will introduce to you another story-teller, a second narrator to share their tale, and together he and I, with your help too, we’ll explore deeper into this interesting and funny world of Fritz and Rocco. This new narrator is Imagination, mine and yours, but not simply make-believe, no, it is imagination more like empathy—that ability we all have to put ourselves in another’s place, to walk in their shoes for a while, so to speak. Or in this case we shall be walking in another’s paw-steps for a little while:

The first night in their new home, it was clear to both Fritz and Rocco that their owners intended to have them sleep at night in a pen, in a remote downstairs room—far, far away from their own bedroom. But this would not do, and Rocco decided to make some noise to voice his displeasure to the two upstairs:

“Leaving us alone!?!

Shih-tzus never sleep downstairs!

Shih-tzus sleep on beds!!!”

At first this didn’t get any action, so he repeated his complaint several more times until one of the people, the bigger one, came into the room and made a swishy sound with his lips.

Rocco looked at Fritz and they both looked at the person. Fritz nudged Rocco and said, “Open your eyes really big, let your ears droop, and look really sad. And wag your tail!” They tried this together and it worked! The person picked them up, one in each arm, and carried them upstairs and put them on the bed. Fritz found a wonderful warm place between the people, up tight against the smaller one that smelled better and Rocco cuddled into the covers at the foot of the bed, near the feet of the bigger one that had carried them upstairs.

As Fritz drifted off to sleep he whispered to Rocco, “Isn’t this the best…I can’t wait for snacks in the morning!”

Rocco agreed, snacks would be a good thing to look forward to, and as he drifted off to sleep himself, he mused about the naivete of the new people they now lived with, and how little they understood about living with magnificent creatures like Shih-tzus. He would have to teach them so many things about proper respect and deference but he also could tell they were willing to learn and had good hearts so he felt certain he would be able to train them well, given the proper amount of time. Sleep overcame him as he sang this little rhyme to himself:

“They wanted us to sleep on rugs,

They must have mistaken us for Pugs,

Not a pest, nor a jest,

We’re simply the best,

‘Cause bed dogs are better than bed bugs.”

 

~FS

 

 

 

Chapter 3: The Super Great Outdoors

Chapter 3—The Super Great Outdoors

Now, speaking of neighborhood dogs, cats and errant squirrels, our little buddies began meeting a host of friends and some foes; although, with their good natures, they had very few foes. What foes they had, could, with a little persuasion, be turned into friends, given time.

Gizmo was the first friend they met in the neighborhood. He was a tall Australian Shepherd-Boarder Collie mix and, as you might expect, he had a love for chasing balls and things. This is a very exciting quality for a little dog like Fritz, who also loves to run and chase things, so they became fast friends.

Rocco, on the other hand, made friends a little more slowly and from a distance, perhaps because he is small and easily stepped on, but also he is less guided by utter trust and unbridled acceptance, as is Fritz. From a hundred yards off, Fritz will see you, and know for certain in his little heart that you will be his best friend and you will love him, and he will run straight at you across those hundred yards, staring directly into your eyes the whole way, while smiling his sweet, wide little canine smile, his puffy brown tail trailing out furiously behind him, until he reaches you and he stares up at you, wildly hoping to be lifted up to kiss your face, or at least that you will bend down and pet his chest, and let him sniff your breath.

Sniff your breath?!?  I know, I know, it sounds a little strange, but Fritz is a connoisseur of smells. If you will let him, this is his favorite way to say hello. And if you’ll open your mouth, he will take a long, deep sniff, assessing and analyzing and discovering untold mysterious things about you, things that you likely don’t know about yourself, but don’t worry, he won’t tell anyone, except maybe, just his brother.

Rocco takes just as much delight in this kind of greeting as Fritz does, and possibly the two will discuss their findings among themselves, after you’ve gone, of course, so as not to embarrass you, because they are polite little dogs after all.

The next neighborhood friend they made was Pookey, the cat that lives next door along with Gizmo. Pookey ran from Fritz and Rocco and this was absolutely wonderful, and by far the very best thing she could possibly do, to make them love her.

There were few things in their puppy lives that were as joyful as chasing Pookey, and she didn’t have the same nasty and somewhat dangerous habit of turning on them with pointy claws, as did their cat companion Aslan, who lived with us all in our own home. No, Pookey didn’t fight back, she just ran, and on one occasion Fritz was even able to catch her and pin her for a moment, before she squirmed away and fled frantically into her house.

It was the only time either Fritz or Rocco had ever actually caught Pookey, and the moment was swift and fleeting, but it had made an indelible impression on their young minds, and the possibility of a recurring opportunity filled them with hope and desire. Ever since then there hasn’t been a time we’ve passed Pookey’s home, that they haven’t run straight to her door and waited expectantly for another chance to catch her.

Even better than that though, was the time they found a somewhat injured squirrel in the groundcover.  I promise, the squirrel wasn’t badly hurt, he probably only stubbed his toe on a rock as he was hiding a nut under the leaves, but he was caught off-guard when Rocco and Fritz discovered him hiding in the plants. I believe at first they only intended to say hello, and inquire if they could offer assistance, but well, when the squirrel fled in a crazed and haphazard way, it really was too much to ask the puppies not to give chase. And when it was apparent that the squirrel’s stubbed toe slowed him down quite a lot, Fritz saw the opportunity only typically offered to him in really good dreams, so he intensified his pursuit.

The squirrel zigged, and then zagged, and ran circles around the driveway with Fritz in hot pursuit. The squirrel spun, and Fritz spun. The squirrel leaped and Fritz leaped. And Fritz caught him! Again, for only an instant, but long enough to fill his little soul with such satisfaction and elation, and fill his mind with memories never to be forgotten, and it gave him a story that would be the envy of many dogs, even those much bigger, older and stronger than he.

~FS