I was only five years old when the harsh reality was set before me: I was only one blink away from going totally blind, my eyesight was hanging on by a fragile thread. And even worse, nobody cared. The disturbing news was delivered by my smiling, curly haired kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Markley. “Looking at the sun is bad for your eyes and it could cause you to go blind,” she told the class casually, just as she might tell us that the word zebra starts with a z. She didn’t expound and soon she was lining us up to go outside. OUTSIDE. WHERE THE SUN LIVES. UNPROTECTED.
I panicked – how could I go outside where the evil sun was waiting to strike me blind at any minute? What if I forgot and accidently looked up into the sky, dooming myself to a lifetime of reading in braille and walking with the help of a silver pole? Nope – the other reckless daredevils in my class could risk it on their own – I wouldn’t be a part of it. I stayed inside the protective cinderblock walls of the school building and played Connect Four with other kids who had ailments preventing them from frolicking on the playground.
The blaring sunlight of the playground was my only major obstacle to overcome during the school day. Once recess ended I was home free – safe inside where I didn’t have to worry. I comforted myself with the knowledge that soon I would go home where I could stay inside the house forever and hold on to my precious eyesight. This was a plan that was working out swimmingly until my mom reminded me that it was Wednesday. Wednesday night was church choir practice night and since both mom and dad were choir members, my sister and I had to tag along and go to the “nursery” where all the choir kids hung out with a babysitter until their parents were done practicing.
While my parents made final preparations to leave for church I sat on our rust colored carpeted steps brooding about the perils that could befall my eyesight that evening at choir practice. When the weather was cold or rainy we played inside with well-worn puzzles, sit-n-spins, and giant cardboard blocks – but on a nice day like today we would certainly be herded out to play in the grassy church-yard. And I would be back in the same conundrum I was in hours ago when this whole delimma started at school.
I normally shared my delimmas with my family but this time was different. I’m not sure whether I was embarrassed that I didn’t have this knowledge before the ripe old age of five or whether I no longer trusted my family since they seemed to be just as reckless as my classmates, going about in broad daylight without a care in the world. This was a cross I would have to bear alone – I would have to fend for myself in my struggle to retain my vision.
Fending for myself at the age of five wasn’t a clear-cut operation. I was still formulating my plan when the babysitter, a short and pudgy woman with dark hair and polyester pants named Stella, announced that we would be going outside to play. Reluctantly I followed everyone else down the hall and out the door. Don’t look up, don’t look up, don’t look up – I chanted to myself once I was finally outside in the wild and unpredictable environment of the church lawn. Maybe this will work. I can just sit here by the building and look down until its time to go in. I examined each blade of grass, I looked at my fingernails wondering when my mom would insist on torturing them with the nail clippers again, I pulled my shoe-laces tighter. This is boring. Its not fair that I can’t have any fun just because the sun wants to make me blind. And what if I accidentally look up. What if I fall over and I land face up looking at the sun? What if just looking near the sun would hurt me? My mind was racing and I began to feel like I was trapped in a swirling whirlpool of ‘what-ifs’. It was time to step up my plan.
Bravely, I got up from my spot under the building over-hang and slowly, cautiously, made my way over to where Stella was standing. Somehow I convinced Stella that we should spend the rest of choir practice playing inside. I can’t remember what persuasive tactics I used on her but I do remember the sense of victory and relief that flooded me as we marched in a line back through the church doors and down to the ‘nursery’. Back in the refuge of the windowless, toy-filled room I breathed deeply. It was good to get back my natural care-free feeling. No more fending for myself, at least for a little while. As I colored on scrap paper from the Sunday School supply cabinet I glanced up at the bright overhead light. Round and glowing a yellowish hue it reminded me of something………………..the sun! What if…..its not just the sun……..what if its all lights? My sense of dread was back in an instant and just to be safe, I used the hand that wasn’t coloring to sheild my eyes from the obtrusive beams of the indoor sun.