Do you know how to draw someone’s stories out of them? Do you like to? I’m learning and am always surprised at how eager people are to be known. I’m also becoming more aware of how peoples’ stories teach me and wake me up to the beauty and blessings of my own life.
Two days ago I got a call from a woman who is visiting family on the Cape for a week . She’s here with her husband and sister. She wanted some help with her family history, having unsuccessfully searched for her would-be ancestors in the area. We did a phone consultation so that I could figure out how I could help her and we agreed to meet last night at the Family History Center where I go every Tuesday and Thursday night.
“Betsy! We’re here!” I immediately fell in love with the three of them, Ginnie, Linda, and Jack, Linda’s husband.
Jack walked in carefully with a white cane, holding one of Linda’s arms. His eyes were clouded with a blue-grey film. He was blind. And I was uncomfortable.
We sat down at the computer where we could look at what I’d found for them. I taught them how to navigate the site so that they could continue where I’d left off, and then Linda and I switched chairs, putting me next to Jack.
Poor Jack! He was either going to love me or be very uncomfortable when I was done with him!
I just can’t help myself. I heard the words coming out of my mouth and wanted to kick my nosy twin who resides in my mind and often rules my tongue.
“How long have you been blind?” Did I say that? He’s more than his blindness! Couldn’t I have asked him something else? Something about his vacation? Why, oh why do I say such things without paying attention to that split second of a warning message that says, ” You might not want to know” ?
And my overly inquisitive twin continued to dig deeper, ” How?”
Jack tapped his cane on the floor between his legs as he recounted his military service from Vietnam to the Gulf War. He thinks his blindness started after being exposed to chemicals which did their damage over a period of eight months after coming home. He was completely blind by Christmas that year.
I didn’t want to ask, but I had to. It was so obvious in his countenance and body language. “Are you bitter?”
Linda sat back in her chair. I didn’t know she’d been listening. “Yes! Very bitter!” And Jack nodded in agreement.
“Why are you bitter?” That question might seem callous or ignorant to some people, but for a moment, as I tried to immerse myself in his world I wondered how I would feel being blind after being able to see? Was it hard to be grateful for what he did have?
Jack pondered the question and shrugged as if there could be no other answer, “Because I can’t see anything.”
It was as if the air from an over-filled balloon had been released. The truth was out. Jack was ticked off. He felt what he felt and wasn’t apologetic for it.
Funny how the truth can set you free. Isn’t it? We had a great conversation after exposing and dealing with the elephant in the room. We talked about his service. He was in Special Forces and wanted to get copies of his service records. We talked about my dad’s service records that I’d been looking at earlier in the day and how he could order his.
We laughed and enjoyed each other for about 45 minutes, talking about politics and Rush Limbaugh. and how Jack’s diabetes makes Braille difficult to read because he has barely any feeling in his finger tips. He admitted that he needs a new computer with software that would help him stay active in a seeing and feeling world. He has tried everything that I suggested. He really needs help getting to the next level. But he has given up. He’s tired. I get it. There are some things that people need to have done for them. This is one of those things. We’ll keep in touch and see what can be done ’cause Jack has stories to tell, and stories to read. He has an enormous spirit to share.
Jack is a real character. I could talk to him for hours. But my thoughtful twin reminded me that they were there to do some genealogy, so I excused myself and told them I’d be within earshot if they needed me. I hit Jack on the knee and said, “There! They are thoroughly addicted now! Good luck!” I almost felt bad enough to sit back down with him because the two women were engrossed in their searching and Jack couldn’t see what they were seeing. He needed a play-by-play commentary. But that would have been distracting, so I left.
An hour later Ginnie called for me. announcing they were done. I got teary. I walked them out after hugs and goodbyes and promises to get together when they come back to visit later this year.
They were so grateful for the help. I have so much more to share with them. They agreed that sharing what they’re learning with family is important to them. But it’s baby steps for now.
I. hate. goodbyes!! I’ll miss Jack. He reminds me of my dad. I’ll miss Linda’s gratitude, and Ginnie’s “Wows!” as new records were found full of new people to research.
I watched them step through the door into the twilight. The sky was so beautiful and the grass was a vivid green. Jack couldn’t see it. For a minute I was filled with gratitude that I could see what I saw. And I understood Jack’s bitterness.
I’ve heard it said that when we enjoy our lives we are a gift to those who can’t experience it as we do.
Today I’ll turn on my radio and I’ll think of Jack.
I’ll look at my family and soak in their countenances, and I’ll remember that Jack has to rely on his memory of his daughter’s and wife’s faces. Ones he hasn’t seen in 22 years.
I’m grateful to have had the courage to get to know Jack, to listen to his stories, and to learn.
Happy Memorial Day, Jack!