She is blind.
She is this little old nun I have come to know from where I work. Soft spoken, portly, and a slight hypochondriac, she makes me laugh. She finds her way from her room to my desk and asks me to read her mail to her. She sits in rapt attention listening to the inflection in my voice. I cannot help but think about the amazing level of mindfulness her life must now require.
I will watch her from time to time and see her head cock or move to noises that I think would be undetectable to her. My soft footsteps as I walk down the carpeted hall, 12’ feet away, are cat like, deft, and yet, she knows.
We sit at my desk and she tells me about her years as a cloistered nun. She tells me of the rigid schedules they kept, the hard labor they did, and she sighs and seems to look away as she tells me she misses it.
I tell her that I have always thought of being a monk. I don’t mention that I am buddhist, only that I also find peace in the contemplative practices. She tells me many people come to that lifestyle, thinking it romantic. The stone walls, the bells, the echoing chambers of the nunnery, and just as many leave. It was too hard, too quiet, too scheduled.
“It was very hard work,” she says. “We were up at 5am and every hour was scheduled. We had very little free time, and all the work of gardening, construction, and repair was done by us. Most people think it’s just singing and praying and walking around. It’s a hard life, but I miss it dearly.”
She left of her own accord. She lost her sight while living there and she knew the burden it would place on the other nuns around her. I frown at the irony of this. One would think it would be all the more reason to stay. She assures me that many nuns don’t share her kind disposition. I laugh and she chuckles along joyfully.
There is a unique connection that I feel with her—this old blind nun and this young Buddhist writer. I romanticize that it is like that of Thich Nhat Hanh and Thomas Merton but I keep it to myself.
She cocks her head and says someone is coming. I heard nothing and yet, within a few moments, someone else is standing at my desk. I look at her and tell her she is like the Daredevil. She has a look of confusion and curiosity on her face. I explain that he is a blind superhero with heightened senses.
She sits nodding with that gentle smile on her face. “I like that,” she says. I laugh and say, “You’re the daredevil nun!” We both chuckle.
She slowly makes her way back to her room and calls back to me, “I hope I don’t run anyone over!” I laugh and call back after her, “At least you have a good excuse.” I watch her go and watch in wonder as her head nods in silent acknowledgment as people pass her. They don’t notice her and yet even blind, she notices them.
Being blind has been a long time fear of mine. When I was a child, the episode of Little House on the Prairie where Mary wakes up blind one morning, affected me in a lasting way. I would wake up every morning with a start and open my eyes, sitting bolt upright to make sure I could still see.
Befriending this blind nun has brought a long held fear back to light, so to speak. At the same time, I have found a sense of peace in her state as she shows me how graceful and mindful she is in her interactions. I sit and wonder how many interactions that I miss even though I can see everything.
Am I actually blind to much of what is in front of me?
When I am finally home and sitting into my meditation, I close my eyes this time. I feel the texture of the seed mala that I hold—the small divots and bumps. I listen to my heartbeat, the sound of my breathing, the small almost unnoticeable sounds my body makes as I shift. I sit back, trying to fully immerse myself in everything I ignore.
The dog breathing next to me, the padded steps of the cat as she plops down the steps, the hum of the water heater and the creak of the vents as the forced air shuts off. There is so much just within this small section of my bubble over a tint span of a few moments.
I think of my fear and what a gift this little blind nun has given me. Blessed with sight, these small interactions with her have shown me how to truly see. It may not be perfect yet and it may never be but it is alive in my practice now in a way it wasn’t before.
Maybe she isn’t blind after all. Maybe it was me.