Last February, just days after my sister’s memorial service, I noticed a shadow falling across my line of vision like a curtain. My poetic friends mused about the timing. Yes, I was living in the shadow of grief, but this was not that. Eyes, like sisters, work better in tandem, and it is startling when one has to suddenly work without the other. But this was not that either. I looked my symptoms up on the Internet: “Call a doctor immediately, you may be going blind.” This wasn’t a metaphor standing in a barren field of loss. This was its own big thing.
I got an appointment the next day and was on my way to surgery an hour later. My retina had detached. I heard phrases like
“Risk of blindness.”
“Every minute counts.”
I was in the hands of the very best, but no one could help if I’d waited too long to come in. Only time would tell if I had. That was eight months ago. Eight months of adjusting to seeing the world through one eye. I found that I could no longer lose myself in the pages of a book. I had to find my way in a new way. Adapt. Adjust. Make do. And I did. But I really missed turning the pages of real books.
My sister and I grew up as voracious readers. Our passports and our library cards were our official documents. As sisters, we had our own built-in book club that spanned continents and decades. We approached her terminal illness the way we’d approached everything else: with book in our laps. We read about happiness, meditation, healing, joy, and serenity. We were creating a life syllabus that we referred to as the “Joy and Wonder Reading List.”
When I came back to school after the retinal detachment, I knew that I could make up for the time I’d lost by modeling for my students the joy and resilience that my sister had modeled for me. I did not have corrective lenses — the vision was changing too fast for that — but the font in children’s books was large and with magnifiers I could do it. Grading papers was hard, so I “spot checked” and found that I was able to get a very clear picture of how my children were progressing. Rather than reading their writing, I listened to it in small groups of children who became adept at giving tangible and targeted feedback with me. We helped each other and our sense of community deepened. I held on to what was most important in reading, writing, and math. We ended our year well and successfully.
In late August it was time for the second surgery. It would be much simpler and much more routine. I asked if I could wait until October– I knew how important setting up my classroom and building community with my new students would be. October came fast.
Two days ago I had the surgery. Yesterday I woke up and saw the world the way I used to see the world… with both eyes.
Later in the day I went for a walk without any particular destination. Suddenly I knew exactly where I wanted to go, to mark the occasion with my own private celebration. I walked to the Public Library. I enjoyed every step. I loved seeing the way the light lit the just-about-to-change leaves; I loved the squirrels running along the branches of oak trees. At the library I loved running my hands along the spines of the books waiting on the shelves, — finding, choosing, and checking out books that would be mine for two weeks.
Tomorrow I will be back at school with my third graders. Today I am celebrating by losing myself in a good book — a real book with pages. I can see clearly now.