“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.” ~C. S. Lewis
Today I felt moved to talk about a friend of mine who probably doesn’t even know how she’s affected my life. When I think of the paradox of how fearful I was of blindness, then enduring my vision loss, I sometimes wonder if becoming friends with a blind girl somehow prepared me for what was yet to come.
My very first personal foray into the world of blindness was when I introduced myself to Karen Rowie. Karen was a couple of years younger than I and I remember when the neighborhood kids would be playing outside Karen would sit alone on her porch.
I would love to be able to say that it was on my initiative that I met Karen when in fact my mother instructed me to do so. My mother and I always had somewhat of a strained relationship but this one simple act of kindness, she demanded I do, would change my life in such a way that even today I still feel the impact.
It was with trepidation that I approached the steps to Karen’s porch and I was seething with anger that my mother was making me do something that felt so uncomfortable. Fear of saying or doing the wrong thing enveloped me like a cloak because the only prior exposure I had to blindness was what I learned in school about Helen Keller.
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.” Henri Nouwen
One of the things I didn’t understand about Karen, and until recently didn’t know there was even a word for it, was that she exhibited blindisms. Blindisms are behaviors sometimes found in blind children such as body rocking, head swaying and eye rubbing. I don’t know why Karen moved like she did and after I got to know her it really didn’t matter.
After I got over my initial awkwardness of meeting Karen, I enjoyed hanging out with her. We would go to the movies (I would narrate), take the bus into the city (Pittsburgh) and go to what is now called the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children.
Karen’s parents were very protective of her and because of this she was not allowed to leave the porch. So I would sit with her while she would read to me one of her Braille books or I would do likewise with a printed version. At times some of the other neighborhood kids would come by as well and Karen would get so excited to have attention lavished upon her.
“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.” Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Karen was such a sweet person and I may not have known it then but I realize that having her come into my life was a defining moment. What I learned from my friendship with her was that she was like any other kid who wanted to laugh, play, go to the movies and be accepted by her peers. I also learned that Karen’s blindness was only one of many characteristics which added to her uniqueness.
It’s been many years since I’ve last seen Karen and wherever you are I just want to thank you for being my friend. If by chance you see this post please contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” ~Helen Keller