“Vision is the true creative rhythm.” ~ Robert Delaunay.
Childhood is a time of wonder, of imaginary worlds and sometimes, confusion. There are always those gaps in understanding, where a child may hear something and then try to fill in the blanks. My grandson wanted to be taken to Christmas once. It was just around the corner! Of course the misheard words and leaps of fancy often make the grownups laugh, and cause the child to feel shame at their ignorance. There was so much we didn’t know, so many spaces that our imagination could fill.
Most of us way back when had more imagination than toys, so we created our own world. It was in the bush of New Longsville, Jamaica, that I was instructed in the art of ‘wattle and daub’ (without the daub, we didn’t have time for that!), of how to make a good ‘dolly house’ by basket weaving stripped down twigs to make a wall. We used the giant leaves of (I forget which plant) to make a roof. From time immemorial people have made toys out of whatever came to hand: carved corn husks, with the silky corn strands as a doll; in Jamaica if you had a squeezed up juice carton and a dried coconut bough you could play a game of cricket!
I was forced to imagine a world without vision the other night. I attended a function hosted by a Jamaican high school alumni association, and the Master of Ceremonies and Guest Speaker was a radio personality and musician. Like any good artist he had dreads, and was wearing dark glasses inside, a clue that he was cool. We were introduced to him, and he stood and reached over to shake my hand. Turns out his wife was a past student of the same high school we had attended. Small world. It was only when we were asked to relocate tables, that I noticed an item that he carried with him. It was one of those collapsible canes. The gentleman was not in dark glasses to be cool, he was completely blind. Despite becoming blind at the age of 16, he had graduated from University, and made a successful career on the radio. He had also benefited from the age of technology, and had been recruited by Apple to develop software that made cell phones even more useful for those without vision. His phone allows him to text and receive texts; it can even scan items and tell him what color they are (a useful party trick that enabled him to compliment his friend on her red dress!). His phone can ‘read’ the written word for him. Not only had all of these inventions and innovations changed his life, he went back to Jamaica and shared the knowledge and technology with other similarly challenged individuals.
While he was telling us of the richness of his life thanks to smart phone technology, I was stuck on imagining a life in the dark. I was sat next to him at the table, and realized how challenging every day life would be to him. He had come out without his wife, and as dinner was served I told him what was on his plate, where the items were. Thanks to my nursing I knew you use the ‘clock’ method to describe placement: ‘the salmon is at twelve o’clock’. Trying to make sure I didn’t assume he needed more help than he did, I asked before I did things for him.
But apart from the challenges of daily life that we sighted people take for granted, I realized that he would meet people with no ability to instantly judge them. No clues of height or weight, he would not judge their looks or race. Perhaps I thought of that because, as a white woman living amongst Jamaicans, I often have to explain to new acquaintances how come I talk with a Jamaican accent, how come I know more about Jamaica than some do. To my non-seeing dinner companion I was neither white nor black, I was a human being. Of course we conversed in patois, so he could assume I was Jamaican. But did his lack of visual clues mean that he could see through the superficial. Was he able to pick up nuances of speech since he was missing the body language and facial expressions to ‘read’ people?
I imagined trying to be his eyes, did his wife usually give him color commentary when they went out together? Did she describe the room, the people, the colors, the assorted yellow and white flowers on the table? I imagined, as a writer, filling my work with more vivid descriptors, to paint a picture for those who cannot see. And then I realized that a writer is always writing for those who cannot see, hear, taste and feel. It is the written word alone that can create the scene, can include the details that allow the reader to fill in the gaps, that set the imagination soaring into the world the writer creates. It doesn’t even have to be real. When we read fiction, whether it is historical, current, or futuristic, a good writer draws us into their world, and while reading we are transported to another dimension.
My encounter with the gentleman left me realizing once more how much we take for granted. A health scare which robs us of the ability to get up and go can also teach us that, but someone with a chronic condition has to learn to adapt or else. An old lady once made me see the word invalid (emphasis on the second syllable) in a different light. In her 90s she objected to being considered an invalid (emphasis on the first syllable), for she was in no way in-valid. We are often embarrassed by an obvious disability of another, self-conscious around them, not fully able to act naturally. We are filled with inappropriate questions as we try to imagine the life of a paraplegic, or an amputee, or a blind man. For the person with a dis-ability, we question their validity. And yet they are probably contributing more to the world than many of us who have no excuse. My friend may have been sightless, but he was not without vision.
On this Friday morning I hope you can imagine a world where we can be blind to the superficial, and seek only to know the core of a person, in order to accept them for who they are. I hope you can see deep within yourself to the person you can be. It was Marianne Williamson who said: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure… And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” Who will you be once you let your light shine fiercely?
Have a wonderful weekend, Family. And if you wish, you can check on the Apple feature which freed my friend Patrick: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whioDJ8doYA