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Senior Correspondent

I was born with a problem.

My eyes could not see the world as it was. The muscles surrounding my eyes were not attached properly, which meant the optic nerve was not in place. My sight was a kaleidoscope of blurred colors. I had two operations. The first, when I was about 18 months old, was a failure, and I remember nothing. The second was when I was four, and I remember a lot. I do believe that the experiences I went through during this time actually shaped who I later became.

There must have been a shadow memory of pain and hospital. As we entered the hospital, I was really scared – crying, clinging to my parents, begging them to not leave me. At the time, there was no children’s hospital in Tacoma, Wash., and the nurses were not very understanding of children, especially me. When I awoke from surgery, my hands were tied to the bars of the bed so I would not touch my eyes. My mother was in the room; her gentle, soothing voice kept me calm. She had set a table on each side of the bed rails with soft toys that I could feel with my fingers. She told me that there was a tiger on one side and a lion on the other, they would be my eyes, and not to be afraid, as they would protect me even when she was not there. She instructed the nurses to make sure the tables were next to the bed with the animals at all times.

I remember awakening, stretching out my fingers to touch the animals, and there was nothing. Panic. I opened my mouth and screamed the ear-splitting scream of total and complete fear. I was lost. In minutes, I heard my mother racing into the room, and she was furious. She had instructed the staff to not move me when she was not there, and not only had they moved me, but the nurse had left the stuffed animals in the other room. She told my mother that I was a difficult child, and the stuffed animals were a crutch. As I listened, I was completely calm. I had gone from complete fear to complete calm in a matter of minutes. Everything was fine.

When I got out of the hospital, I had patches on my eyes for a long time while they healed. Mom would take me shopping with her. I would hold onto her skirt. One time, in the grocery store, I was following along, and all of a sudden she stopped and said: “Oh my dear, where did you come from?" This was not my mothers voice! I opened my mouth and once again let out the ear-splitting scream. Within moments, my mother was there by my side. Apparently, when the woman walked by, her skirt must have brushed my hand, and I just switched hands and followed along. I had a light touch so the women didn’t notice right away, and Mom didn’t notice either. Again, the experience of complete fear to complete calm in a matter of minutes. 

I hated when people would pat me on my head and then talk all about me to the parent I was with, asking what was wrong with me. Pitying me. There were a lot of doctors appointments during these months. They caused me much anxiety. I hated the sounds and smell of the office. As soon as we got into the building, I knew where we were going and would start to whine and whimper. They did not want me crying as that would effect the healing of my eyes. Mom was always trying to sooth me. Once, we were in the elevator and a man in front of me patted me on the head and was going on and on with my mother about what was wrong and how sad. I had had it, opened my mouth and bit him hard on the back of his leg near his bottom. Ow! Needless to say, a lot of apologizing went on, my mom trying to explain and making me say sorry (I wasn’t). I had to stand up for myself!

I remember the day I first saw something clearly. It was a Friday night. I was sitting on my father’s lap, and the TV was on. We had one of those early TV’s with the small screens. One corner of the eye patch had come undone and I was able to see what was on the TV. My Dad was watching the fights. I gasped and giggled, and of course as soon as they realized, they taped it back. But I could see!

Over the years, I have believed that these early lessons – fear one moment, calm the next – taught me to not jump to conclusions, to wait for more information before acting and to stand up for myself. In the course of study that I practice, there is a lesson I go back to time and again: “I choose to see this differently.” For the whole day, I hold this thought, to see what other vision the universe will bring to me if I am open.

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