A Blind Man Who Saw
( Originally Published 1902 )
I REMEMBER that once our collie, in language quite plain to us, told us that there were strangers on the premises. I went out of the door and found workingmen, who had come to repair the stone flagging in front of the church and parsonage. One of the number was making chips fly, cutting away a root which had lifted up the pavement. I said to him : " My friend, are you not afraid that it will injure the tree to cut off so large a root? " He answered, " No, it has a million roots, and it will not miss the one I am taking away."
My son said, " That blind man yonder is the contractor, it might be a good thing to speak to him about it." I went over to him, and had not exchanged two sentences with him before I forgot the root and the tree, so deeply interested did I become in the skill and enterprise of the man himself. I asked him how he got along in the stone-paving business, disabled as he was. He answered : "Any kind of an occupation to a blind man is an uphill business, but he will get up the hill if he will climb hard enough. The way I get along in my business is to use the sight of the men I employ. I have as many eyes as those of the men that work for me. It would hardly do to let them know I could not get along without them, for then they would put up the price of wages on me and I would have to go out of the business, and hence I use all kinds of good-humored tact in availing myself of the benefit of their sight." Continuing, he said: " I would not trade shoes with lots of people I meet on the street; they see some things I do not, but I see a good many things they do not." Suspecting what he meant, I thought I would draw him out a little. I asked him what things he saw that escaped the notice of others. He replied : " For instance, mental things. Being blind, I am thrown back on my other organs, which are compelled to do the work of the missing one. I see a good many things through my ears. I can tell a man by his voice. I can tell a tall man and a short man, a smart man and a dull man, and, more times than you would think, a good man and a bad man, by the tone and quality of the voice and the manner in which it is handled. After three minutes talk, I have as good an estimate of a man's character as those who have their sight could have. I also see through my feet. That foot of mine knows a good deal. I never think of touching my hand to a stone to determine the accuracy of its position. I have trained my feet so well that not a man who works for me can tell when the stone is in its exact place so quickly as I can, by standing on it. My foot is pretty nearly as accurate as a level, in laying the pavement. What I meant by saying I would not trade shoes with many I meet is this, that they are mentally asleep ; that they will not use the faculties they have, while I, with the loss of one faculty, have to work harder for the knowledge I have, and the additional exercise of the brain strengthens it. There are other people I pass on the street who do not see morally ; they do not distinguish between their money and somebody else's, or between their rights and those of others ; they do not see the tired face of a hungry widow, nor the bare feet of an orphan boy. I take a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that I see these things, and try to govern my life accordingly.
" It is true, of course, that many people who go by me, will not run into an iron lamp-post, as I do sometimes, but they will run up against moral lamp-posts, that stun them, and throw them sprawling into the gutter; and the strange thing is that they will continue to run up against these posts each day till they have knocked out their brains and their life. Many who pass me on the street do not see spiritually; they do not see any Being behind the flowers and trees and stars. They have never seen the Man on the tree who died for us, nor the Other Person who walks by the good man's side; they have never had any vision of any other world but this. I see God and Christ and the Holy Spirit, and Heaven ; I claim I have the light from above. I know I have it, and," continued the blind man, " the vision of these unseen things makes me very happy."
I was so entertained with his words, that I asked him to sit down on the church steps and tell me something about himself. He said, " My name is Prank Wolven; my partner and I are in the stone-paving business." " Were you always blind? " I asked. " No, sir," he replied ; " we lived in the country, and my father, who was in the stone business, was loading a blast, which was exploded by accident, by a spark from a stroke of the crow-bar. Pieces of stone struck both eyes, putting them entirely out ; a small piece also went into my forehead, which you can feel now if you will put your finger on it. I was then twelve years old ; being a country boy, I had never seen a blind person in my life. In the old Lander's Primer I had seen the picture of a blind man led by his dog, for whom I had always felt very sorry. I was taken to the best specialists in New York City, who could do nothing for me, and sent me back to the country. Two years later I went to an institution for the blind in New York.
Afterwards, for eight or ten years, I followed the business of piano tuning, spending part of the time in a large factory. I can take any piano apart, even to the removal of the smallest screw, and put it together again. Then I went into the stone business, in which I was at first unsuccessful. I think it does a man good, that it wakes him up, to get bitten a time or two at the start ; I profited by the lesson of my misfortune, and am getting along very nicely now."
I said : " My friend, it is more than likely that our Heavenly Father did you the greatest possible kindness in taking away your eyes, that he has shut you in, on a world of truth, beauty, and goodness, which you might have missed if they had been spared, and that you will behold more beautiful things in the next world than would ever have been revealed to you if your natural sight had been preserved."
To the Christian, misfortune is often the greatest fortune, and total blindness the most perfect vision. God often has to hang a curtain to shut out the visible, that his children may be able to see the invisible.