Saturday, November 13, 2010

Seeing and Blindness

Every Tuesday and Wednesday I travel to Bern, and every day the commute is different.  The light seems to make Lac Léman shine a bit differently each time, sometimes there are groups of rowdy high school kids making their way to the nation's capital on a school trip, other times there are feisty jokers offering me coffee and poking fun at passengers, mouths open, softly snoring.

This past Wednesday, a blind gentleman sat down next to me in Geneva, and in Lausanne, a group of blind people and their companions joined him.  First of all, I was amazed that they found each other--there are just so MANY cars on a train.  I was typing away on my dissertation for a while, but I couldn't help but listen as they chattered about censorship for audio books.  I had no idea this existed, but they were very emphatic as they explained the situation: many blind folks listen to books on tape rather than read them in Braille, and a certain books on tape company decided not to record a book that had erotic material in it.  Fascinating.  Of course, hearing a book and reading it are two very different activities.  On one hand, there's a certain level of theater and performance involved; on the other, it's a very intimate, solitary activity--the voice in one's head reads all the words and characters, and no one risks hearing any racy material, since it's all enclosed somewhere in the safe confines of the skull. 

Aside from this conversation, which I quite enjoyed, the woman sitting across me was sharing her delight about taming the beast of the ticket machine on her own.  (Man!  Delighting in such simple things--which aren't so simple, when you don't have the gift of sight.  The machine is all touch screens.  Imagine!)  When the controller came around to check tickets, she proudly furnished hers, and the controller explained that she didn't need a ticket, since she was accompanied!  Apparently there's some Swiss law or regulation that allows a blind person to ride for free, if his/her companion buys a ticket.  He reimbursed her for the ticket on the spot, and she kept exclaiming how charming he was to do so!  She took the majority of the refund, but she asked, ever so politely, if it would be a case of corruption if she gave him the 3CHF in change that remained in thanks for his kindness.  You know, treat him to a coffee.  He sheepishly smiled and accepted the gift.  And it was one of those moments that made me happy I'm human.  Just people being nice to other people.  It happens all the time, on trains, if we can just open our eyes and look.

"On ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur.  L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux."

1 comment:

  1. I love this story! You captured it so well.
    My neighbors are both blind and have a five year old daughter. I am so amazed at their dedication as parents. They are wonderful!
    Hope you're well, my dear Mary.