There are some disadvantages to having a blind mother. My children found them all.
They found, for instance, that when they pointed to something out the window and asked, “What’s that?” I usually had no answer. I was also no good at teaching them their colors, or showing them how to draw, or driving them around town. They gave up asking for a night-light, as I was heartlessly unsympathetic to the desire for such a thing.
But they didn’t seem to find these disadvantages to be a loss. Once when my son was asked about the difficulty of having a mother who couldn’t see, he said, “What do you mean? She knows everything. I can never get in trouble without her finding out. She can hear a banana peel next door.”
This, of course, is a great exaggeration of my other sensory skills, but the persistent story in my house is that “our blind mother always finds everything.” They discovered early in life that it doesn’t take eyes to find lost things – it takes imagination.
I was very aware of my visual limitations, but I did not share my pediatrician’s amazement that my one-year-old had a vocabulary of a couple hundred words. “Why,” I thought, “If your mother needs words, isn’t it natural to learn to use them?”
Still, I joined in the astonishment of a saleswoman at the yarn store when my 18 month-old daughter toddled around picking up skeins of yarn and naming the colors, because my husband is color blind!
All six of my children have grown up to be photographers and are skilled at drawing. One is an artist, another a jewelry designer, another a creative seamstress. I did not contribute instruction in any of these pursuits, but I did teach them all to read – something I like to joke I cannot do myself.
I have often recounted my childhood eagerness to attend school so I could “learn to read,” and how appreciative I am of my parents, who bucked the system to make a way for me to go to public school, and acquired a special instructor in Braille for me rather than send me off to the state school for the blind, the only mainstream option for educating blind children back in the 1950’s.
As an adult, however, in reflecting on my own love of reading, I realized that my parents taught me to read long before I went to school – by reading to me. The books were my instructors in the imaginative language of story.
So, my children’s first reading “lessons” started when they were infants, as they listened to me read all the stories I had loved as a child. Their desire to read for themselves was well-developed by the time formal instruction began.
There is a lot said about imagination these days, and not just on this website. I recently heard Wendell Berry discussing its role in a person’s life. He said imagination is the art of seeing beyond what’s visible. Imagination is the inner eye, our mind’s eye, the well we draw from when we solve problems, create new recipes, write a poem. Imagination grabs an idea and runs with it.
To put it mildly, imagination is what makes the world go around, or at least, makes life worth living. The ability to imagine is a tremendous and powerful gift of God. It’s a reflection of His own nature, undeniably a part of who we are as His creatures, formed in His image.
He imaginatively made us all. (It’s helpful to remember this when you meet strange or difficult people.) The world he put us in is a setting with untold mysteries to be discovered, starting in our own backyard. Our children need to be out there, discovering the ways of ants and toads, the variety of cloud formations, the feel of tree bark and wet grass, the fragrances of blooming things – rolling, climbing, grappling with them all.
As if this wasn’t enough, He gave us a book. If you don’t think the Bible leaves a lot to our imagination, perhaps you haven’t been wondering about all the things it leaves out as much as I have, or why other things are deliberately included. It is a wondrous book, a guide through the darkness of this world, a searchlight revealing its beauty, our very own night-light – truly a story of stories. Then He sent His son into the story and, as if the world wasn’t already hanging on His every word, waiting, longing for the climax and the revelation of the coming ending, He called him, the hero of heroes, the Word.
In God’s supreme imagination, he imprinted us with His story, made us crave stories, and made language our lifeline. We read and wonder. We retell stories, create new ones, see and understand the puzzles of life with every fresh story. They feed and fuel and flame our imagination. In some astounding way they all reflect some of the glory of His own eternal story.
The story He wrote of my life created me without sight, but not sightless. Where there are stories, imagination lives, and where imagination lives, you can see with more than just your eyes.