By Sister Nancy Linenkugel, OSF
Each week as my reading partner and I exit from the Radio Reading Services studio we use for our early morning taped Wall Street Journal program at CABVI (Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired), I pass by the office of Jennifer, one of the program coordinators at the agency. She’s usually at her desk by 8 a.m., with her sight assistance dog, Nora, peacefully tucked under the return of her desk and ready for whatever the day will bring. Jennifer has a cup of coffee at her fingertips and Nora has a bowl of water nearby at her paw-tips.
I poke my head in Jennifer’s office doorway, say good morning, and announce who I am. She immediately looks in my direction and responds with the cheeriest and most enthusiastic, “Hi, Sister Nancy!” and a broad smile.
Jennifer exudes total trust. She can’t tell if her hair looks OK or if her sweater is spotless. Hers is a world of repetition, having to do things the exact same way every time. For example, she always places her coffee cup at the same place on her desk otherwise she might accidentally spill coffee on her computer if the cup wasn’t where her hand expected it to be. Yes, she has a computer. And a phone. And even pictures on the wall. But Jennifer is blind.
Adorning the wall are her framed BS degree diploma and two pictures. One picture shows Jennifer standing in her cap and gown. The other picture is of Nora in a dog-version of a cap and gown. It only seems right that since Nora accompanied Jennifer to every class, she would also accompany her across the stage at commencement. So Nora needed to look the part, too. Jennifer has never seen the pictures but describes them to me in great detail and re-lives the happiness of graduating just by telling me about the event. (And Jennifer has now completed all her coursework and soon graduates with a master’s degree in public administration.)
I think of how Franciscan Jennifer is without even trying to be. She’s not motivated by appearances since she can’t see what others look like or what they’re wearing. She has no idea how old/young, heavy/skinny, glasses/no glasses, etc. to categorize my appearance, and she doesn’t seem to care about that. She readily engages in conversation. She’s interested in me, in what I’m saying to her right then, and is eager to follow my next word. She’s not distracted by corridor activity behind me since she can’t see it; she’s just interested in me at that moment. I enjoy talking with her.
Jennifer seems to “see” who’s speaking to her despite not being physically able to see the speaker. In contrast, how many times am I really seeing the person in front of me? Or instead do I easily get distracted and look past him/her while they’re talking?
I think of John Newton’s familiar words from “Amazing Grace”: “…was blind but now I see.” These are Jennifer’s words—she IS blind but she sees. Are they my words? I’m sighted, but do I really see?