Walking home after Morning Prayers, I pass a spot where a kind-hearted woman feeds homeless cats. The woman knows her customers well. She puts several servings of food down. She sets them at distances sufficiently apart to allow each cat to eat comfortably without having to fear that an interloper might try to steal its food. Some mornings, in addition to plates of food, she provides a large bowl of milk. One day last week I counted nine cats enjoying their breakfast. I always wish the cats “Good Morning!” as I pass them. They are not impressed, however, and look up only briefly from eating, returning to it almost immediately.
Recently, on my way home, I noticed a cat lying all alone in some grass, grooming itself in the early morning sun. Its back was to me. “Good Morning,” I said. The cat turned its head to look at me. I don’t think it could see me, however, or, if it could, at least not very well. It had cataracts in both eyes, in an advanced stage of degeneration. It had turned its head, so its ears faced me, in an attempt to determine its level of danger by hearing, not sight. It must have felt safe, though, for it didn’t react with fear or try to run away. This incident evoked a painful memory for me, a vivid recollection of my bout with cataracts, some years ago.
My cataracts came on rather quickly, so said my doctor, at an age earlier than most people typically get them. In only a few weeks, my vision was severely affected. I was able to use public transportation to get to and from work. But at work, I was increasingly frustrated in trying to get my job done. I sat in front of my computer, turning my head from side to side, trying to find a clear field of vision, one that would allow me to read the text or view the images on my screen.
Once, on my way to an appointment after work, I got lost. I was in an area of Philadelphia with which I was not familiar. I walked to the nearest corner and tried to read the name on the street sign, but I couldn’t. I asked a passer-by where the nearest bus stop was. I found it and waited. It was not long before a bus pulled up. I got on it and asked the driver how to get to my neighborhood. He had me sit near him, told me when to get off, the number of the bus I needed to catch, and where to wait for it. I got home safely, a little shaken, but with an enhanced understanding of the struggles of the visually-impaired. In time, I had cataract surgery. A skilled physician restored my vision. I say, “restored.” The truth is that after the surgery, I could see better than I ever had.
In addition to reminding me of my history with cataracts, seeing the cat brought to mind a song I first heard in the seventies, “Nobody’s Child.” The song’s about a blind boy living in an orphanage. While many people express an interest in him initially, they quickly change their minds once they learn he’s blind. They adopt some other child, and he is left behind, nobody’s child.
The song was on an album by The Alexander Brothers, a folk-music duo from Scotland. In the beginning, I thought the song was a traditional Scottish ballad. Subsequently, I learned that it wasn’t. The Americans Cy Coben and Mel Foree wrote the song, and Hank Snow, the Canadian-American country music singer/songwriter, recorded it first, in 1949. Since then, several artists have recorded it. The Traveling Wilburys, the English-American “supergroup” consisting of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty, recorded the song in 1990. Here’s their version.
Having cataracts led me to do some soul searching, initiated a spiritual journey. Sometimes a physical affliction may be more than what it appears to be. After a while, rightly or wrongly, I came to consider my cataracts as an external manifestation of internal blindness, spiritual blindness, the blindness of my heart. I’m still on the journey my cataracts initiated.
In the 1662 version of the Anglican prayer book, The Book of Common Prayer, “The Litany” contains the following petition:
May it be so!
All the best,