I love you not because of who you are,but because of who I am when I am with you.
Three Days to See
Sometimes I have thought it would be an excellent rule to live each day as if we should die tomorrow. Such an attitude would emphasize sharply the values of life. We should live each day with a gentleness, a vigor, and a keenness of appreciation which are often lost when time stretches before us in the constant panorama of more days and months and years to come. There are those, of course, who would adopt the Epicurean motto of "Eat, drink, and be merry," but most people would be chastened by the certainty of impending death.
In stories the doomed hero is usually saved at the last minute by some stroke of fortune, but almost always his sense of values is changed. he becomes more appreciative of the meaning of life and its permanent spiritual values. It hasoften been noted that those who live, or have lived, in the shadow of death bring a mellow sweetness to everything they do.
Most of us, however, take life for granted. We know that one day we must die, but usually we picture that day as far in the future. When we are in buoyant health, death is all but unimaginable. We seldom think of it. The days stretch out in an endless vista. So we go about our petty tasks, hardly aware of our listless attitude toward life.
The same lethargy, I am afraid, characterizes the use of all our faculties and senses. Only the deaf appreciate hearing, only the blind realize the manifold blessings that lie in sight. Particularly does this observation apply to those who have lost sight and hearing in adult life. But those who have never suffered impairment of sight or hearing seldom make the fullest use of these blessed faculties. Their eyes and ears take in all sights and sounds hazily, without concentration and with little appreciation. It is the same old story of not being grateful for what we have until we lose it, of not being conscious of health until we are ill.
I have often thought it would be a blessing if each human being were stricken blind and deaf for a few days at some time during his early adult life. Darkness would make him more appreciative of sight; silence would tech him the joys of sound.
Now and them I have tested my seeing friends to discover what they see. Recently I was visited by a very good friends who had just returned from a long walk in the woods, and I asked her what she had observed…"Nothing in particular, "she replied. I might have been incredulous had I not been accustomed to such reposes, for long ago I became convinced that the seeing see little.
How was it possible, I asked myself, to walk for an hour through the woods and see nothing worthy of note? I who cannot see find hundreds of things to interest me through mere touch. I feel the delicate symmetry of a leaf. I pass my hands lovingly about the smooth skin of a silver birch, or the rough, shaggy bark of a pine. In the spring I touch the branches of trees hopefully in search of a bud the first sign of awakening Nature after her winter's sleep. I feel the delightful, velvety texture of a flower, and discover its remarkable convolutions; and something of the miracle of Nature is revealed to me. Occasionally, if I am very fortunate, I place my hand gently on a small tree and feel the happy quiver of a bird in full song. I am delighted to have the cool waters of a brook rush thought my open finger. To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug. To me the page ant of seasons is a thrilling and unending drama, the action of which streams through my finger tips.
At times my heart cries out with longing to see all these things. If I can get so much pleasure from mere touch, how much more beauty must be revealed by sight. Yet, those who have eyes apparently see little. the panorama of color and action which fills the world is taken for granted. It is human, perhaps, to appreciate little that which we have and to long for that which we have not, but it is a great pity that in the world of light the gift of sight is used only as a mere conveniences rather than as a means of adding fullness to life.
If I were the president of a university I should establish a compulsory course in "How to Use Your Eyes". The professor would try to show his pupils how they could add joy to their lives by really seeing what passes unnoticed before them. He would try to awake their dormant and sluggish faculties.
Perhaps I can best illustrate by imagining what I should most like to see if I were given the use of my eyes, say, for just three days. And while I am imagining, suppose you, too, set your mind to work on the problem of how you would use your own eyes if you had only three more days to see. If with the on-coming darkness of the third night you knew that the sun would never rise for you again, how would you spend those three precious intervening days? What would you most want to let your gaze rest upon?
I, naturally, should want most to see the things which have become dear to me through my years of darkness. You, too, would want to let your eyes rest on the things that have become dear to you so that you could take the memory of them with you into the night that loomed before you.
What I Have Lived for
Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.
I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy - ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness--that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what--at last--I have found.
With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.
Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.
This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.
A Plate of Peas
My grandfather died when I was a small boy, and my grandmother started staying with us for about six months every year. She lived in a room that doubled as my father's office, which we referred to as "the back room." She carried with her a powerful aroma. I don't know what kind of perfume she used, but it was the double-barreled, ninety-proof, knockdown, render-the-victim-unconscious, moose-killing variety. She kept it in a huge atomizer and applied it frequently and liberally. It was almost impossible to go into her room and remain breathing for any length of time. When she would leave the house to go spend six months with my Aunt Lillian, my mother and sisters would throw open all the windows, strip the bed, and take out the curtains and rugs. Then they would spend several days washing and airing things out, trying frantically to make the pungent odor go away.
This, then, was my grandmother at the time of the infamous pea incident.
It took place at the Biltmore Hotel, which, to my eight-year-old mind, was just about the fancies place to eat in all of Providence. My grandmother, my mother, and I were having lunch after a morning spent shopping. I grandly ordered a salisbury steak, confident in the knowledge that beneath that fancy name was a good old hamburger with gravy. When brought to the table, it was accompanied by a plate of peas.
I do not like peas now. I did not like peas then. I have always hated peas. It is a complete mystery to me why anyone would voluntarily eat peas. I did not eat them at home. I did not eat them at restaurants. And I certainly was not about to eat them now.
"Eat your peas," my grandmother said.
"Mother," said my mother in her warning voice. "He doesn't like peas. Leave him alone."
“My grandmother did not reply, but there was a glint in her eye and a grim set to her jaw that signaled she was not going to be 14)thwarted. She leaned in my direction, looked me in the eye, and uttered the fateful words that changed my life: "I'll pay you five dollars if you eat those peas."
I had absolutely no idea of the impending doom. I only knew that five dollars was an enormous, nearly unimaginable amount of money, and as awful as peas were, only one plate of them stood between me and the possession of that five dollars. I began to force the wretched things down my throat.
My mother was livid. My grandmother had that self-satisfied look of someone who has thrown down an unbeatable trump card. "I can do what I want, Ellen, and you can't stop me." My mother glared at her mother. She glared at me. No one can glare like my mother. If there were a glaring Olympics, she would undoubtedly win the gold medal.
I, of course, kept shoving peas down my throat. The glares made me nervous, and every single pea made me want to throw up, but the magical image of that five dollars floated before me, and I finally gagged down every last one of them. My grandmother handed me the five dollars with a flourish. My mother continued to glare in silence. And the episode ended. Or so I thought.
My grandmother left for Aunt Lillian's a few weeks later. That night, at dinner, my mother served two of my all-time favorite foods, meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Along with them came a big, steaming bowl of peas. She offered me some peas, and I, in the very last moments of my innocent youth, declined. My mother fixed me with a cold eye as she heaped a huge pile of peas onto my plate. Then came the words that were to haunt me for years.
"You ate them for money," she said. "You can eat them for love."
Oh, despair! Oh, devastation! Now, too late, came the dawning realization that I had unwittingly damned myself to a hell from which there was no escape.
"You ate them for money. You can eat them for love."
What possible argument could I muster against that? There was none. Did I eat the peas? You bet I did. I ate them that day and every other time they were served thereafter. The five dollars were quickly spent. My grandmother passed away a few years later. But the legacy of the peas lived on, as it lives on to this day. If I so much as curl my lip when they are served (because, after all, I still hate the horrid little things), my mother repeats the dreaded words one more time: "You ate them for money," she says. "You can eat them for love."