A woman finds the faith to go on after losing her sight.
Posted in , Mar 28, 2014
This was my second Braille lesson. Because of a congenital eye defect, my retinas had deteriorated to the point that I was legally blind. I felt like a foreigner in an alien world.
My fingers tumbled over the stiff paper with its jumble of raised dots. My teacher, Jean Haugland, patted my hand and encouraged me. “Relax, it will come to you.” Her chair scraped back and her voice came from behind me. “Have you talked with your husband about the mobility classes?”
“Discuss it with him, Bev. I’m sure he’d want you to go.”
“What’s there to discuss? I might as well be dead!” I spun around and collided with a second chair.
“Protect your face!” Jean called as I bent to retrieve my purse and rub my bruised knee. One of her first warnings had been to protect my face when I leaned over to pick up a fallen object. Purse in hand, I stood up and headed in what I hoped was the direction of the door.
Where are You, God? I cried out in silent frustration. You’re supposed to be with us always. But You’re not here for me.
In the outer office, my husband, Ero, took my arm. “How’d it go?” he asked.
“Fine,” I lied. At home, I sat on our back-porch steps and inhaled the good green scent of spring. I thought about the flowerbeds and the vegetable garden I’d planted beyond the lawn each spring. Remember me, God? Working in Your earth used to be an act of worship, my profession of faith.
“Mrs. Ruuth?” At the sound of the boy’s voice I jerked upright. I knew better than to jump up anymore; bruises had taught me that sudden movements belong exclusively to the sighted.
“I just came over to see if you wanted me to rototill your garden.” Surely he’d heard about my problem. Everyone in the neighborhood was probably talking about it and watching me. “Mom saved some of the seeds from that special squash you gave us last summer,” Billy went on. “In case you wanted to plant them this year.”
I almost sent the intrusive 14-year-old on his way. Then I remembered that his mother, widowed, raising four kids alone, probably counted on the money Billy made each spring tilling our garden.
“I suppose you could rototill anyway, Billy,” I said with a shrug. “Even though I’m not putting in a garden, it’ll keep the weeds down.”
A few days later Billy was back. “Here are those squash seeds, Mrs. Ruuth.” The plastic bag of seeds lay on my kitchen counter for several days. Just to get them out of the way, I took them to the garden. I began picturing where I had planted the squash last year, along the back of the garden against the fence.
Picking my way to the left corner, I stooped and pushed five seeds into the ground. Taking four steps to the right, I planted five more seeds. I did this five times, then retraced my steps, stretching to keep my right hand on the fence as a guide, and made a second row.
When I came back to the porch, a voice said, “Hello, Mrs. Ruuth.”
I froze in my tracks. “Billy!” I snapped. “How long have you been here?”
He’d probably been laughing at me fumbling around out there in the dirt.
“I just got here. Mom said that you might have a hard time picking out seeds this year so she got you a bunch. She hopes they’re the right ones. And…I brought you this.” Billy placed a plastic nursery flat in my hands.
“What…?” My fingers touched some slightly sticky leaves. I fingered the blooms. “Petunias!” My hand brushed another flower. It came away with a distinct odor. “Marigolds!” “Right.” suddenly we were playing a game.
With a few hints, I correctly named pansies, primroses and lobelia–flowers Billy had grown familiar with from helping me in my yard year after year.
“Do you want me to plant them?” he asked. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he and his mother had wasted their money.
“Yes. Just the flowers. And I suppose you’d better do a little weeding as you go.”
I would pay him a generous amount for his work, enough to cover the price of the seeds and flowers, too. To my surprise, he returned after school the next day. “Mrs. Ruuth, I got an idea. Okay if I check out the shed?”
“Sure.” I heard clanking and banging in the shed and then he was back.
“Listen, I found a ball of twine and some stakes. What if I drive stakes into the ground and run twine to mark the rows, and you can plant those seeds?” He was so enthusiastic; I couldn’t say no. When he had the first row staked and marked with twine, he handed me a seed packet. “What is it?” I asked. “Guess.” opening one corner, I shook a few seeds into my hand. They were sharp-edged little rounds. I rolled one between my thumb and index finger.
“Nope,” Billy said. “Guess again. Here are the carrot seeds.” He pushed an open packet into my hand. I put my finger into it and encountered much tinier, harder seeds. I felt the first seeds again.
“Right! Hey, you’re good. I guess being blind ain’t the worst thing that could happen.”
That was his opinion–he could see. But that was the way we went, guessing and planting and driving stakes and running twine. When the last seed packet was crumpled in the pocket of my old gardening jacket and Billy had put the tools back in the shed and left, I went into the house.
After scrubbing my hands, I took out my Braille lesson. Billy’s “Hey, you’re good” still rang in my ears. An hour later I dialed Jean Haugland’s office. That in itself was a feat I had not accomplished before. When Jean said hello, I felt like whooping for joy. “Jean, this is Bev.”
“Bev! How are you?”
"Fine. When is that next mobility class starting?”
There was a pause. “In two weeks. Are you coming?”
“Wonderful. Did Ero finally convince you?”
“No....” Explaining about Billy would take too long, so I just told her, “Jean, I planted my garden today. And I dialed your number without any help. As a young friend recently said to me, I guess being blind ain’t the worst thing that could happen to me.”
Jean laughed. “It sure ain’t.” After we said good-bye and hung up, I went out and sat on the back-porch steps. A light breeze brought me the fresh scent of tilled earth and new growth. Hello, God. You are always there. Thank you!