SEEING WITH THE HEART

SEEING WITH THE HEART

From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

Seeing with the Heart

Nothing in life is so hard that you can’t make it easier by the way you take it.

Ellen Glasgow

I was blind! It was only for six weeks, but it seemed an eternity.

During that time, I was in a Columbus hospital, very scared, very alone, and extremely homesick for my husband and five kids. I am sure the darkness exaggerated these feelings even more. I spent hours, even days, wondering if I would ever be able to see my children again. I had spent so much time feeling sorry for myself that when the nurse announced I was getting a roommate, I was far from excited. Ironically, I didn’t want anyone to “see” me this way. Like it or not, within a short time, my roommate moved into the bed on the other side of the room. Her name was Joni.

Despite my best efforts to dwell in self-pity, I almost immediately started liking Joni. She had such a positive attitude, was always so cheerful, and never complained about her own illness. She often sensed my fear and depression and somehow convinced me that I was lucky not to be able to see myself in the mirror during this time. My hair was a mess from lying in bed for a week, and I had gained several pounds from the cortisone IV’s. Joni could always get me to laugh at her crazy jokes.

When Joe, my husband, came to visit, he sometimes brought all five kids with him. Can you imagine dressing five kids under six years old? It often took hours to find ten shoes and socks that matched. I had coded the kids’ clothes in those days, and all you had to do was match a Pooh Bear top with a Pooh Bear bottom, and your child was in style! Well, Joe didn’t know this, so the kids came to visit in quite a mixture of costumes. After they were gone, Joni spent hours telling me what each one had worn. Then she read to me all the little “I love you’s” and “Please get well soon, Mommy’s” from the cards they had brought. When friends sent fresh flowers, she described them to me. She opened my mail and told me how lucky I was to have so many friends. She helped me at mealtime to find my mouth with the food. Again, she convinced me that just for the moment perhaps, I was lucky that I couldn’t see the hospital food!

One evening, Joe came alone. Joni must have sensed our need to be alone; she was so quiet I wasn’t sure she was in the room. During his visit, Joe and I talked about the possibility that I might never see again. He assured me that nothing could change his love for me, and that somehow, no matter what, we would always have each other. Together we would continue to raise our family. For hours, he just held me in his arms, let me cry, and tried to make my dark world a tiny bit brighter.

After he left, I heard Joni stirring in her bed. When I asked her if she was awake, she said, “Don’t you know how lucky you are to have so many people loving you? Your husband and kids are so beautiful! You are so lucky!”

At that moment, I realized for the first time that during our weeks together in the hospital, Joni hadn’t had a husband or child visiting her. Her mother and minister came occasionally, but they only stayed a very short time.

I had been so wrapped up in myself, I hadn’t even allowed her to confide in me. From her doctor’s visits, I knew she was very sick, but I didn’t even know with what. Once, I heard her doctor call her illness by a long Latin name, but I had never asked what it meant. I hadn’t even taken the time to inquire. I realized how selfish I had become, and I hated myself for it. I turned over and started to cry. I asked God to forgive me. I promised the first thing the next morning, I would ask Joni about her illness, and I’d let her know how grateful I was to her for all she had done for me. I’d tell her that I did indeed love her.

I never got the chance. When I awoke the next morning, the curtain was pulled between our beds. I could hear people whispering nearby. I strained to hear what they were saying. Then I heard a minister repeating, “May she rest in eternal peace.” Before I could tell her I loved her, Joni had died.

I learned later that Joni had come to the hospital for that very reason. She knew when she was admitted that she would never return home. Yet she had never complained and had spent the final days of her life giving hope to me.

Joni must have sensed her life was ending that last night when she told me how lucky I was. After I had cried myself to sleep, she had written me a note. The day nurse read it to me that morning, and when my vision later came back, I read it time and again:

My friend,

Thank you for making my last days so special! I found great happiness in our friendship. I know that you care for me, too, “sight unseen.” Sometimes to get our full attention, God must knock us down, or at least make us blind. With my final breath, I pray that you will soon be seeing again, but not especially in the way you think. If you can only learn to see with your heart, then your life will be complete.

Remember me with love,

Joni

That night, I awoke from a deep sleep. As I lay in bed, I realized I could vaguely see the brightness of the tiny light along the baseboard. My vision was coming back! Only a little bit, but I could see!

Yet even more important, for the first time in my life, I could also see with my heart. Even though I never knew what Joni looked like, I am sure she was one of the most beautiful people in the world.

I have lost my vision several times since, but thanks to Joni, I will never allow myself to “lose sight” of the important things in life . . . things like warmth and love and sometimes even sorrow.

Barbara Jeanne Fisher

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