On the Fifteen

It was Wednesday.  It was Wednesday, and I was running late.

The morning had started lethargically and I had looked to the clock hoping to find comfort in my punctuality, but instead the sad, frowning face that read eight-twenty informed me that I had missed my usual bus and would have to hurry in order to catch the next.  As I pulled myself together, my mind raced over the mental checklist of tasks and responsibilities that would give structure and a feigned sense of urgency to my day.

I hurried to the bus stop just to be sure that I wouldn’t miss this one.  I arrived out of breath and, frankly, a little sweaty from the power walk that had brought me to my rendezvous with public transportation.  To recover from my oh-so-strenuous trek, I took several deep breaths, which further punished my physical ineptitude by stabbing at my lungs with an icy chill befitting of the scenery.  Which is to say that everything was covered in ice.  And when I say everything, believe me, I mean everything.

Father winter had delayed his coming this year, but when he finally arrived, he was surely the life of the party.  An ice storm, unlike any other that I can recall, had plastered the city with a layer of ice half an inch thick only two nights prior, and everything shimmered like crystal because of the ice.  The frozen city stood as an unblemished reminder that there are greater powers at work in this world than the ticking of clocks.  Ice did not simply lay on the trees and bushes and street signs and cars, oh no, it ensconced them.  Every pine needle on every pine tree was completely encased in ice, the trees were bedecked with shimmering diamond toothpicks.  It was as though God had taken the world and dipped it in glass while no one was looking and then quickly put everything back in its place, hoping that no one would notice the new quality that He had given to all things.

Everything sparkled.  From where I stood I could see a heavily forested corner of the park where ice-covered branch after ice-covered branch intertwined and climbed upward towards the sky, perhaps in supplication.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.

But my swoon was interrupted by the roar of the fifteen pulling up in front of me.  I boarded and took a seat on the nearly empty bus.  A moment later, an older gentleman boarded and briefly stood in the doorway speaking with the driver.  As he went to a seat next to the door, the man told the driver where he should stop the bus to let him off.  Then I saw his cane: long and thin, pale white with a small stripe of red at the base.  For a brief moment the cane appeared to me as a kingly scepter in the hands of a worthy man.  It seemed that before my very eyes he grew in stature and was draped in cloaks of purple and gold, and I felt compelled to bow before him and offer my services to this mighty lord.

But the vision faded and I saw then what the man himself must not have seen for many, many years: his dead eyes.  Sunken into his age-worn face were dark, warm eyes.  No dark glasses covered them and there was no coldness within them.  Should he not have had his cane, I would never have imagined this man to have been blind.

In fact, my mind even suggested to me that surely this man was not blind.  He simply had come into possession of a blind man’s cane and was merely using it as a walking stick, a crutch in his old age.  Were I to look, he would surely feel the burn of my gaze and therefore feel obliged to return my stare and make eye contact.  I attempted to lock eyes with the man.  He did not see me.  He never would.

I felt disgust at myself for accusing this man of lying about such a serious condition, such a crippling disability.  My crime was only tolerable because it was confined to my own consciousness and even then, it was only barely acceptable.  But something about the kindly appearance of this man quickly erased my shame as he sat across from me, calmly smiling at some thought that I would never know.

The man was well dressed, although his slacks had a smear of mud across the back of his right calf that was visible as he sat, the mark of some unforeseen object that had snuck up behind him only to brush past, leaving its signature.  His knit cap matched the beige sweater that he was wearing.  And on his left hand, he wore two rings.  A thin, unmarked silver band encircled his ring finger.  On his middle finger was a more distinct piece of jewelry.  A small turquoise stone was set in a silver band that wrapped around the stone, cradling it with a firm but gentle hold.  The ring was neither delicate nor bold.

Several thoughts began to creep into my mind as I viewed his rings.  The ring that I assumed to be a wedding ring brought about a vision of the man returning home to his caring wife, who would nurture and care for her husband.  I pictured the woman to have the marks of long toil and weariness in her face, yet her clear voice would not belie the sadness that she wore in the places that he could not see.  She loved him.  Yes, she assuredly loved him as he was, but perhaps during the dark of night or during the times when the mind may wander into a waking dream, she would longingly remember the loud, boisterous man for whom she had fallen in her youth, a man who had not yet been dealt a cruel stroke of fate, as had the man who now shared her bed.  Perhaps he dreamt of that man, too.

But why did this man wear the second ring?  What would drive a man to present himself so elaborately when he would never again know his own reflection?  Was some shred of vanity present in this man, that he might wear such a ring to incur further attention from those around him?  I glanced up to the man’s face, with its wrinkled skin and pronounced brow.  I saw him smiling as he looked down towards his hands, the image of which was but a memory to him.  His hands had been more to him than hands, they had been eyes too.  An endless number of images had come into his mind’s eye through those hands.  There was no vanity in those hands.

But what of the second ring, then?  Maybe it was a gift.  Perhaps it was a gift from his daughter.  One of the silly and irreverent gifts that daughters give to their fathers, gifts that speak more about what a little girl would like her father to want than about what he would actually desire.  Yet, upon receiving such a gift, it is exactly what he had always wanted.  It is strange how that works, how innocence and love can turn something so silly into something so loved.  But what of his assumed daughter?  Maybe she had been with him during the accident that led to the dimming of his eyes, and maybe she had lost more than her sight…

Or maybe she was fine and in good health and had given him a granddaughter, and it was from her that this ring had come.  A gift that held the boundless joy of a child, a gift that would put a smile on his face even as he looked with deadened eyes to where he knew it must be.

As the bus turned, my attention was drawn out of the window of the bus and to the frozen landscape outside.  He would never see the wonderland that had graced us this winter.  I wondered if anyone would try to put such a sight, a sight that renders words utterly useless, into words so that he might know the beauty that surrounded him.  I began to think that maybe I should take it upon myself to describe the scene to him.  And yet, more than I feared being unable to do justice to God’s work, I feared offending the man.  How could I, a complete stranger who knew nothing of his hardships, speak to him of sight?

My eyes returned to his face, and he was still softly smiling.  And then I knew.  I didn’t need to describe the world to him.  He knew the world.  And he knew its beauty.  He did not need eyes to see these things; he did not need eyes to have lived a full life.  This man, who had lost so much, was content.  He was happy and at peace with the world.

The bus was nearing my stop.  I searched the man with my eyes, attempting to memorize the image of his weathered figure.  I would remember this man.  I would remember the lessons that he had taught me.  He had opened my eyes to the world, as if for the first time, and I would not forget his image.

I exited the bus and it drove off, carrying the blind man away on its endless, cyclical path, the snarl of its engine filling my ears.  As I began to walk, the image of the man faded from my mind.

It was Wednesday.  It was Wednesday, and I was running late.

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