“Look out for that pole there, darlin’,” I say to Jessica at the grocery store, because she has walked into it before. This is because she is visually impaired, and hates taking her cane when we go places. “You can be sighted guide,” she says to me, which is on its face true; the problem with relying on me to be sighted guide is that I will wander off to look at bright sparkly things while you’re running into poles in the middle of the grocery store.
When I warn her about this tendency—“Maybe we should bring your cane, so you don’t run into things. You know me, I don’t always remember to tell you about obstacles”—she says, “You just need to get on the Jessica program,” and then she kisses me on the cheek. This is how she starts the Jessica program. The Jessica program is supposed to supersede the Work program and the Looking at Sparkly Things program. Jessica always thinks this will succeed because she thinks my brain is like hers; that is, she thinks my brain will do what I instruct it to do instead of wandering off into contemplation and abstraction.
When I say, “Well, I try, but I don’t always succeed,” she says, “That is because you need to be rebooted,” and she pushes the reboot button on my shoulder. And then she laughs because some part of her knows that in this regard her brain is more reliable than mine, and that is a cause of happiness. When you are very different from other people, it is nice to sometimes function better than they do.
At the grocery store, she says, “Thank you for telling me about the pole.” (She is a very polite young girl; I do not know where she gets this from.)
“You’re welcome. You’re about to step on that box.”
“That is because the box is on my right side,” she says.
“I cannot see on my right side.”
“Nope,” I say. “You can’t.”
“So it is good that you tell me.”
I refrain from mentioning that she could use her cane and just say, “You’re welcome.”
People sometimes stare at us when we have this conversation, because Jessica doesn’t say her part with any kind of feeling. Not frustration or self-pity or anger or resignation or anything at all. It is just a fact, to her, and it doesn’t even seem to have any meaning other than she sometimes runs into things because she cannot see them. It’s not as if she thinks, “Geez! If only I had better vision!” As far as I can tell, she has never thought that about any of her difficulties. They are things that exist, but they are not things that she has become; she considers herself perfectly whole and sound, and the facts about her are facts no different from the gray in my hair and and crows’-feet around my eyes. Things that are noticeable, but not a disability. Not a deficit, as we say in the careful language of IEP meetings. Nothing that makes her less than.
I don’t know where this gift came from; the same place she got the politeness, I suppose. It certainly didn’t come from me, a person who cannot see a single thing without labeling it and putting it in its proper container.
A long time ago, when she was very little, she used to get very quiet and listen to things I could not hear, a smile of delight on her face. I sometimes thought the universe was whispering its secrets to her and I wished she would share them with me.
Now I see that she does, every day of our life together. She is Zen in motion; things are what they are and as they pass by, she does not judge them. Every day she teaches me to listen to the universe, though mostly I cannot hear without her telling me what to listen for.