WHAT has come over the spirit of man to-day that he should lament so loudly, both in print and in private, over his own time in history — forever casting wistful backward glances to a past which in all probability was no better than it should be? I confess I have little patience with this attitude. We are here to-day, are n’t we? Not back in the Golden Age of Greece, nor the Italian Renaissance. Then why not be friends with it, rather than mourners over it, even if it does present its own peculiar difficulties? Or, if we cannot be friends, let us at least take it lustily by the throat and choke some blessing out of it.
So much for my feelings in general; more specifically, I can be the very best of friends with the present time, since it has been more friendly to me than any other period in all history — save possibly one — could ever have been. Indeed, I am more than a friend of to-day; I am its lover. How could I be otherwise when I contemplate the gifts with which it has showered me?
This, you see, is a drama of good fortune, the stage directions for which might read: —
A Lucky Lady
TIME: The Present
PLACE: Anywhere in the United States
And, if some reader protests that this paper is too intimate in its personal details and would have been in better taste had it been written in the third person with the Lucky Lady referred to remotely as ‘a friend of mine,’ or ‘a woman I once knew,’ he must forgive me, remembering that lovers are neither cold nor impersonal. Moreover, in this day of depression, which I am ready to concede has its difficult side, it may make a little inward blaze at which others may warm the fingers of thought to read, so frankly set forth, how, through the beneficence of the present time, one human being at least has escaped a life sentence. ‘Why, if the present age let her out, it may do the same for me!’ he might exclaim.
My good fortune began with my journey into the world, in that it was scheduled for this particular period in time. Whether this was of my own wise choice, or whether I was deported by the authorities from other shores for good and sufficient reasons, I shall not know until I make port on my return. All that I may be sure of is that, in looking back over all the possibilities offered by the past, not one of them could ever have done for me what the present has done — unless, indeed, I had been in Palestine, and, sitting by the roadside with blind Bartimæus, had been able to cry out my need to the great Passer-by. With this one possible exception, to-day is for me above all other days in history. Tomorrow may be even better; but no yesterdays for me, if you please! I am a product of the Machine Age, and I thank God for it.
I do not toss that phrase off lightly, but voice it with the deepest gratitude. The reason is that I have only about one third of normal sight in one eye, the other being entirely useless, while my hearing is seriously impaired as well; in any other period in history I should have been almost completely out of the running of everyday life, but, thanks to certain mechanical aids and to the medical science of this age, I am enabled to get so much enjoyment out of the world that I have not half time enough for all the pleasant activities in which I may join. And this not only because of modern medical skill, but also because certain other people have worked with patience and inspiration, using their creative brains to seek out many inventions for my benefit.
Of course healthy ears and eyes are everlastingly better than any mechanical aid to sight and hearing; for behind the human organ is its Creator, God, while behind the machine is only its creator, man. But if one’s God-given organs have failed, their man-given substitutes are a hundred times — I cannot run the times into the thousands — better than nothing. Through them I am given peepholes into life. Normal people, I suppose, would consider my peepholes hardly better than ‘squints’ — those little slits in the walls through which, supposedly, lepers or anchorites were permitted a glimpse of the sanctuary in mediaeval churches. Naturally I should be glad to see and hear more; but, since I cannot, I am devoutly grateful for the squints into life afforded me by my good little machines.
Electricity is my Fairy Godmother. Whatever should I have done if she had not been invited into the world at the very moment when she could attend my christening, and so present me with certain magic gifts which only she could bestow? The gifts are light and sound; and I ask you what Fairy Godmother out of any magic past ever did much better for even the most favored of royal babes? I have an affection of the sight, a cryptic disease which trips along under the euphemistic name of retinitis pigmentosa, frequently abbreviated in medical circles to ‘retinitis pig.’ And a pig of a disease it is! One of its unpleasant peculiarities is telescopic vision; another is night blindness — which means, of course, that I do not have normal sight at night, nor even in the daytime in dimly lighted places.
I have never been able to see what the average person sees on a moonlight night. I have it on ‘information and belief’ that the sky is spread over with innumerable stars; but only in photographs — photography is another gift of this age — can I experience any conception of this, since merely a handful of the brightest stars emerge into my sight. That, by the way, may be one reason why I have always regarded this apparently insignificant little world of ours as an extraordinarily important place. My imagination has never been staggered by the sight of millions of other worlds swimming through the skies.
By reason of this night blindness, I am under an evil spell; when a certain hour strikes I turn into a blind mouse, a mole, or a bat. That hour arrives when my Brother the Sun, ‘who is fair and shines with a very great splendor,’ drops below the horizon. It may also strike for me in midday, if I have to enter a dark hallway or room; and if there is one thing that I infinitely detest it is a dim religious light — though it is true that a sweet low voice is almost as objectionable.
But, when darkness closes in upon me, my Fairy Godmother, bearer of light, comes immediately to my rescue. Without her, where should I have been in those glamorous ages of the past to which the thoughts of others turn so wistfully? When I read in historical novels some such description as ‘the room was but faintly lighted by a single tallow dip,’ I am so filled with despair at the thought of how I should have gone groping through those tallow-dip times that I must run to the wall, press a button, and summon my Fairy Godmother to reassure me. No — a cresset, flare, rushlight, tallow dip, or any other picturesque futility of the past, could not compare, to my mind, with one sixty-kilowatt bulb. And, however much my tongue may like to roll their alluring and quaint names through a line of verse, when it comes to metre, what I really like is an electric one. (Oh yes, you must forgive me. When good fortune arrives, I am prone to burst into some such exuberant frivolity.) To-day, when I am overtaken by the sinking of the sun, presto! I rub my magic lamp, — or touch a button, if you must have the prosaic truth, — and Fairy Godmother is there for my salvation. I am flooded with light — swept by it, fed, filled, and sustained by it; and only those who sit in darkness have any conception of what real light is.
What would the Italian Renaissance, say, have given me to compare with electricity? Beautiful frescoes in lovely little old churches? Yes, but I could not have seen them in that dim religious light, merely illuminated by one tallow dip. Well, then, Dante and Petrarch? Certainly; but I can have them now, — if I want them, — and in all probability in their own period I should have been too blind to read them, and too deaf to have any but the most patient of friends scream their melodies into my ear. In the Italian Renaissance, the Golden Age of Greece, or even the Elizabethan period, I should have been shut up in an unutterably dismal and dark little hole of life, walled in behind deaf ears and fading sight. No — given my especial handicaps, — or indeed any other physical infirmities, — I do not see how, out of all the past ages of history, I could have selected a better period for my trip into the world than this very day of the Machine Age, when my Fairy Godmother is here at my beck and call. She is as magic for me as any sinister genie to be found lying about in doubtful old bottles — and far more useful and beneficent.
Just here there is one thing I want to know: How did the genii ever get into those bottles, anyway? Once they were in and safely corked, I for one would have been slow to let them out. A genie on the loose has made the sorrows of many an old tale; for, remember, in those days there were no fool-proof attachments to safeguard the rash and ignorant. Once out, Heaven — more probably, Hell — only knew when you would get a genie in again. Whereas Fairy Godmother, when not serving me or some other human being, retires sweetly and submissively into her bottle at the mere snapping of a button.
True, she too has her dangerous side; and some day I may forget to handle her just right, when possibly she will kill me with the same light efficiency with which she has thus far served me. Well, she has given me so much added life, she is welcome to my death if she must have it. I dare say it is as pleasant to depart by her well-known exit as by any other — ‘Leave by the nearer door,’ as the bus drivers say.
But after a time even Fairy Godmother could not help much; for cataract, the usual accompaniment of retinitis pigmentosa, began to spread its gray fog over both eyes. Ever have cataract? Well, I might describe it, and that from inside information; but it may be more briefly and forcefully summed up in the words of a former Negro cook of mine, to whom I once remarked by chance that I had never had mumps. ‘Oh, lor’, chile, you need n’t never want to have ’em!’ she retorted. ‘All you kin do is jest to set and cry with your jaws!’ So neit her need you want to have cataract. But if you must, be glad that you can have it in the present time, rather than in any past stage of history. In the Golden Age of Greece I might have ‘set and cried with my jaws’ to the end of life. But in the Golden Age of To-day medical science could offer something better.
As the gray fog thickened, I cherished the possibility — a slim one — that the eye which had first taken to its bed, pulling the cataract over its head, might later by an operation be prodded out and back again into service. This hope was not always sustained by my various oculists. It appeared that the outcome of a cataract operation on a retinitis pigmentosa eye was a highly doubtful matter; it was not a thing to be lightly undertaken. A scarce twenty years ago they would have let it go at that, and I should have languished there behind my gray veil. But, again because I was unusually lucky in the very moment of my entrance into life, as the years went by and the fog thickened I began to receive messages from one friendly physician to the effect that an oculist in New York had been operating with surprising success upon cataracts in connection with retinitis pig.
That was enough. Give me an inch of hope and I can always seize an ell. I gritted my teeth and determined that when the right moment came I would take old retinitis pig by the horns, hoof, or tail, and dare that operation.
In the meantime — and it was a mean time — I groped along with the good eye, falsely so called. It held up pretty well for some time, until at last the cataract thickened over it and sight faded into a general blur. I could barely see to make out my own manuscript, had to have all my private letters read to me, and could only read the clearest of print with one eye screwed shut and my hand cupped over the other — a facial contortion very far from becoming. Even gardening, that solace and passion of many years, became almost impossible. I felt that hasty and apprehensive whispers shivered through the seedlings at my approach: ‘Hold tight now, here comes Margaret; she’s as like as not to pull us out for weeds!’ — and that after having planted them with such anxious care!
At last the waiting was over; and so to bed for the operation.
Many of the great moments of my life I have preserved in limericks, that type of verse, for some reason, seeming to lend itself better to my simple annals than any more heroic measure. So I may now offer the following as a brief description of the cutting-and-fitting part of the experience. It was inspired by the fact that the King of Siam, being wise as well as royal, abandoned the Middle Ages of his own country and sought the twentieth-century science of the United States for a similar operation at the very same moment that I was having mine.
As the doctor cut into her eye,
‘The King of Siam,
Ain’t as brave as I am!’ —
But the doctor vouchsafed no reply.
Though the doctor vouchsafed no reply, he was nevertheless attending strictly to the matter in hand; and, passing over certain intermediate days, we move swiftly to the next dramatic moment. The bandages are off; the doctor is fiddling with my eye. I think it is merely the routine dressing which has happened before. But suddenly he places a lens over it, and I, still out in a far-away world where every object appears huge and blurred and dim, look up and — Eureka! There before my astonished gaze is the doctor’s face, swimming up out of all that surrounding murk in a sort of detached clearness of its own — startlingly, amazingly, ecstatically clear! Clear, when for years upon years I had been looking upon the whole world through an ever-thickening haze! That is all — and enough for to-day.
The eye is tucked up, the doctor departs, and I fall out of bed and telephone to all my especial friends — the ones who have been so heavenly kind to me through thick and thin. Oh, what a good friendly little machine is the telephone! In the Golden Age of Greece I should have had all the nuisance and expense of sending fleet runners scurrying around with the good news. But in those days there would n’t have been any good news to run with.
A little later I have another peep into life. There, black, — black as thunder, — the words New York Times jump out at me — so black, so startlingly clear that they seem almost to leap straight off the printed page into my vision. No one can possibly conceive how black black print really is, unless for unnumbered years he has been goggling at it through a dirty gray fog. Oh, why was I not shown some great immortal words, to be stamped forever upon my memory with that astounding clarity? New York Times indeed, for such a moment!
Of course a cataract operation is not all beer and skittles; and, after those first amazing sights, there was much backing and filling of a discouraging nature, until at last I got away with a satisfactory lens and could look forth upon a new world — one which I had to get used to, for cataract sight is not normal sight. Nor is it becoming, alas, either to one’s friends or to one’s self. People looked like caricatures of their old familiar selves. What in a face had heretofore been merely pleasant, friendly lines were now devastating craters; and my own image, as seen in the mirror, was something not to be looked upon lightly. Strange to say, all that unbecoming sharpness has now been softened by time, and again I can look upon the human face with some pleasure. I am left to wonder whether that is due to some physical adjustment, or to an unconscious Pollyanna determination to view the world at as pleasant an angle as possible.
Another rather curious thing was that while before, even when my eyes were at their youngest and best, I had always seen the trunks of trees as a uniform gray, now down the side of every tree ran a sharp black line. I have seen the same thing in impressionistic paintings, and an artist friend tells me that is the way he always sees trees; and now my former criticism of such painting is contradicted by the fact that I too see that black line.
All these new strange sights were most exciting; but best of all was the whole general feeling that I had come out from under a cloud which seemed to have pervaded my entire being, dimming all my lights, mental, physical, and spiritual. Now I was out from under it, and was once more in a pleasant bright world. A friend of mine overheard an old Negro tell one of his acquaintances, ‘That doctor, he gimme some medicine what just went through my hull pussonality ’ — which exactly describes what had happened to me.
For this good fortune I am indebted to several oculists. If their names ever creep into print, they will no doubt consider it highly unprofessional, but since — thanks be to Heaven — I am not professional, why should I not name them? First, then, I am indebted to Dr. Hiram Woods, formerly of Baltimore, now of Paradise, whose friendly interest kept me posted as to the progress being made in the removal of cataracts from my type of eye; next to Dr. Arnold Knapp of New York, whose pioneer work in this field made my return of sight possible; and finally to Dr. Emory Hill of Richmond, Virginia, — ‘down where the South begins,’ as our radio announcer takes occasion to remind us frequently, — who with a neat and skillful twist of his wrist snipped the cataract off.
So there was I, back again in life with a brand-new eye; and it was spring. Take it from me, if you are contemplating a cataract removal, plan to have it off with your winter flannels, so that by the time May swings into her place you will be through the period of sight when men look like trees walking, and will be there to look upon all her loveliness with that fresh vision. If human nature was ugly, nature herself was ravishingly beautiful. And how beautiful was that spring, anyway! It was the one following the great drought in our section, when nature, as though repenting her ill humor of the previous summer, turned around and flowered into an aspect so lovely that even people faring along with the same old shopworn sight grew ecstatic over her beauty, while upon me and my new eye she burst with a dazzling splendor. Almost too dazzling at times, for so much light was let into my retina that occasionally trees in full fresh leafage looked as though they were all in flourish with white blossoms; and when they were in bloom — well, I shall never forget one especial row of catalpa trees, tall, green, white tapers of bloom blazing all over them. Again and again I went to gaze upon them. One came down a hill, around a turn in the way, and there they were — white and green, swimming in that startling clarity of sharp beauty like objects seen in a mirror. Forever I shall remember the strange detached loveliness of these trees in flower, living their mysterious secret lives, owning themselves, there by the side of that quiet road, for me to gaze upon and to worship.
And now I can read, read, read, all day long if I want to! I can once more read my own letters, and need no longer share my private correspondence with the first pair of good eyes that happens along. I can also go to walk alone. True, with only one third of normal sight in one eye, coupled with telescopic vision, one does not always do that perfectly. Frequently I pull the whiskers of automobiles, no doubt to their drivers’ extreme annoyance. But what would you? I have always maintained that if you come into this world at all you must take your life in your hands.
I also do other strange things. Only a few days ago, while tripping cheerfully along what appeared to be a perfectly safe and sane sidewalk, I suddenly found myself mounting nimbly over an unexpected obstacle, and to my amazement discovered that I was walking straight over a child’s large express wagon. How I ever got up on it with such ease, and down again, I know not. Consciously, I do not think I could have done it; but, left to themselves, my feet swept over it in a couple of careless strides. What chance spectators thought, to see a lady suddenly walk over an express wagon — and that a large one — instead of around it, again I know not; but I think I now note a certain anxiety on the part of the children on our block to clear the express-wagon traffic at my approach.
Well, old retinitis pig subjects us to strange experiences. My brother, who is a victim of the same disease, entered what to him was a dimly lighted shop, not long since, and to his horror collided with an apparently very tottery old lady, who at the shock immediately collapsed, limply falling over upon his bosom. Terrified lest he had damaged somebody’s grandmother quite beyond repair, my brother clasped her to him, patted her upon the back, and, gently restoring her to her feet again, took off his hat and apologized profusely. Then, the light growing a little brighter to him, he perceived that he was bowing and scraping before a cloak model, which with its frozen expression stared past him with impersonal scorn, while behind her counter a small shopgirl was having hysterics.
And now, glory be, I hope to garden once more. For I have insisted upon having a weeding glass as well as a reading one, and even as I write the postman brings the first seed catalogue of the year, filled with all its spring delights. Friends tell me that they look out of their windows to watch me go walking past all by myself, — I hope they don’t see me doing the expresswagon act, — and, if ‘saints have not yet run to windows to look,’ I feel sure they will, and the ‘seraphs swing their snowy hats,’ when they find me in my garden once more; for there I have come nearer to seraphs than anywhere else in the world.
And all this good fortune, mind you, could never have come to me a bare thirty years ago. Nor could it now be maintained without the aid of a machine; for I regard glasses as coming under the head of machinery, and without them I am almost blind. All I have to do to remind myself of the benefits of this Machine Age is merely to take them off. Everything is bright enough, but it appears in huge, misty blobs and blurs of outline — somewhat, I imagine, as though I were swimming under water; for when a cataract is removed the lens of the eye goes with it and a glass one must take its place. I slip my spectacles on again, and there once more is that sharp clear world swimming into view through their peephole.
So there I was with a brand-new eye, but still with the same old ears — both pretty bad. Oh, why are there no cataracts to be cut from deaf cars! I was invited the other day to address an association for the deaf. Would I speak, please, for fifteen minutes on the humor of deafness? I would not. There is n’t fifteen minutes’ worth of humor in it.
I was born with impaired sight, but deafness sneaked up later in life, withdrawing one pleasant thing after another. The theatre went early in the game, though I clung to it as long as possible, for there was no form of entertainment which ever gave me the intense delight the drama gave. There was only one thing better than a bad play, and that was a good one. But deafness gathered that, pleasure away into silence. There are clever lipreaders who enjoy the theatre, but I have not sufficient sight to read the lips.
Lectures and sermons departed along with the theatre, and would have been gone forever in any other age, but modern science was not content to have it so. It fetched in, first, the movies, which afforded me a good deal of amusement until the cataract nearly wiped them out, and before they abandoned their golden silences for silver-screen speech which I could not hear. Then came that sheer miracle of to-day, the radio; and now, clear and loud — far too loud, no doubt, for my next-door neighbor — into my own sitting room pour music, lectures, sermons, and even plays of a sort; Metropolitan operas sweep their glorious melodies through the whole house; Presidents confide their aspirations for a distressed country into my very ear; of a Friday morning there is a little trail of music, and suddenly Dr. Damrosch says to my father, uncle, and myself, ‘Good morning, my young friends,’ and with pleased grins we almost bow back again; and never do I get over the thrill of a big hook-up, with voices chatting back and forth across half the world. Oh, don’t put on that times-are - not - what - they - used - to - be look, and groan to me about the radio!
One would have thought I had already been given enough; but my Fairy Godmother was not satisfied. People still had to strain their vocal chords to make me hear; and, unless I could steal one of the church acousticons from some other deaf worshiper, which form of petty larceny I constantly committed, most of the service was lost to me. How grateful I was to that acousticon! How well I remember my delight over the first sermon that came pouring into my ear through it! That was good — but still, as I say, Fairy Godmother did not consider it good enough; so not much above a month ago she waved a magic wand, and with an ‘ Open Sesame ’ tossed into my lap a new device for hearing, which, making a clever detour around the diseased portion of the ear, fetches the sound in at another point. Now, like the Messenger who called upon Humpty Dumpty, I have become very stiff and proud, and constantly say, ‘You need n’t shout so loud.’
Upstairs in my own room I tried the thing out first. If it was not going to be a success — and probably it was n’t — I preferred to be alone with my disappointment. I put it on. I heard the clock tick — farther, and farther, and farther away, I heard it — all across the room! And that when with my unaided ears I can barely hear it at the distance of an inch. Oh, joy! Still wearing the device, I ventured downstairs into the family circle, and said to my two kinsmen: ‘Look at me — do you notice anything ? ’ They looked me all over from head to foot, and then, doing their masculine best, offered hopefully, ‘Why, you have on a new dress.’ And this a garment I had worn all winter. Joy again! The little thing was so inconspicuous that no one’s conversation was to be dried at the roots by the terrifying sight of an ear trumpet.
Next I sallied forth to call upon a dear relative. We fell into conversation, and I said airily, ‘Don’t speak so loud, please.’ With some surprise, and no doubt much inner relief, she took a tuck in her voice, and proceeded in a lower tone. But again I murmured gently, ‘You really needn’t speak so loud to me. I am afraid you arc straining your voice.’ Oh, how stiff and proud I felt! At that she fell into something of a panic, crying, ‘ But — but I ’m just speaking in my normal tone!’ Then I turned my head, and with a dramatic finger pointed out the little instrument where it snuggled under my hat, and proceeded to demonstrate further how well I could hear; upon which, to my touched surprise, she promptly burst into tears — tears of happiness that sound had come back to me. I left her standing upon her doorstep, still wiping her eyes, and calling herself a fool in a normal tone, which I could hear.
Next I went to a lecture. I had not heard a lecture for more years than I care to recall. How foolish even to hope that I might again hear one! Well, if I were to be disappointed, as almost certainly I must be, no one was to be any the wiser. Accordingly, I said nothing of my faint hope to the friends with whom I went; and they, depositing me well up in the familiar deaf circle, retired to a pleasanter distance. Could I possibly hear? With anxious fingers I adjusted the instrument. It was to be a lecture with motion pictures, which would make it all the more difficult, for with my night blindness I should not be able to see even where the lecturer stood. He would be nothing but a detached voice — oh, of course it would be impossible to hear him! The lights went out; the lecture went on — and I heard. I sat there in the dark, my mouth open in a fatuitous, ecstatic grin, while the whole lecture poured straight into my head — hardly a single word missed all the way through. Why describe it? Even the dullest of hearing people — and how dull they often are! — must realize what it was to have this, my ear which was dead, alive again.
And what a delightful lecture it was! And how could any past age have offered anything half so remarkable for an ear to awaken to? It was the description of a descent to the floor of the ocean in tropic waters. With my new eye I watched jellyfishes drift slowly, slowly across the screen, or beheld deepsea anemones open their strange horrid mouths for food; while with my new ear I heard of monstrous clams weighing a ton, around which the lecturer stepped warily, for should they nip one — whuff! what a shell-shock!
So much for the lecture. And now I hear all sorts of small long-lost sounds
— clocks ticking cosily in the room, people reading aloud, my own feet beating out little patterns on the street; and if anyone says, ‘Who wants to hear clocks tick, or feet going by?’ I answer with a loud shout: ‘I do! And so would you if you hadn’t heard them!’ And now I hear birds singing in spring gardens!
And how very nice people have been about it! They say it is human to rejoice at the misfortunes of others. Perhaps so, but it also appears to be human — dashed, I think, with the divine — to be glad when good fortune comes to others. My friends ring me up to rejoice, and come in to listen to me hearing. I am trying to recapture the lost art of listening, and hope soon to be giving the opposite to a conversazione
— which as yet has no word, because so few listen. We deaf people certainly develop into great talkers. Since we can’t hear, it is our only way of getting in on the social game, so please forgive us when we grab huge mouthfuls of the conversation, bearing it away with fierce growls. Friends tell me that I look years younger — twenty years, they even go so far as to say; and, though my New England conservativeness makes me cut that in half, still ten years of younger looks is something to be grateful for. True, in the old mythical past, if a dryad kissed you, it also made you ten years younger; but there was always a danger that the young lady might take a real fancy to you, and with repeated salutes kiss you right out of existence! Note again the crying need for fool-proof attachments to all those high-powered creatures of the past, dryads, genii, and the like.
Of course my instruments are not perfect, for, as I have already remarked, no machine can equal a healthy flcshand-blood organ, so be sure to treasure yours! Still, if the God-given eyes and ears fail, one may be devoutly thankful for their man-given aids. True, also, life is somewhat complicated: I go forth strung about with as many inventions as the White Knight; it requires some concentration not to put my spectacles on my ear and my earphone on my nose, and my reaction to any situation is prefaced by the necessity for changing my glasses. I almost think, should a bandit hold me up demanding my money or my life, my automatic response would be, ‘Just a moment till I get my other glasses!’
My machines at best, as I have said, are merely peepholes into life, but they are a whole world better than nothing, and how could any other age have been half so kind? Gladstone, when asked what period of history he would have chosen to live in, is said to have replied, ‘The Age of Pericles.’ Well, as far as I am concerned, he is welcome to it! Far be it from an insignificant person like myself to decry the Golden Age of Greece, but great heavens! how glad I am that I did not have to take my journey into the world at that period! What use, I ask you, would the healthy and beauty-loving Greeks have had for me?
I do not say that this is not a difficult period. It has its dangers and bewilderments along with its glories and possibilities, as every age has had. What I do maintain most vigorously, however, is that no time in all history was ever half so kind to the handicapped or took so much thought for their comfort as does our day. Therefore it seems to me, in the midst of all the dispraise of the present that meets us at every turn, it is high time that one, at least, out of the army of the halt, the lame, and the blind, should lift a voice in its defense and fling out banners in praise of it. Are we to receive everything and give no gratitude in return?
It is not necessary for me to look very far back into the past to realize all the benefits that we handicapped have received from the twentieth century. Not above thirty years ago I met a young Japanese woman who, with what seemed to me singular courage and high-mindedness, had come to this country to make a study of modern methods for teaching the deaf. She told me that in her country, whereas the blind were esteemed and well provided for, it was quite otherwise with the deaf. A congenitally deaf child was looked upon as a direct curse from God — a divine condemnation and a human disgrace. If such a child was born into a well-to-do family, it was hurried out of its own home and placed with anyone who was willing to be paid for its care; while, if it was born to parents in meagre circumstances, it was merely thrown out to die.
In Korea, she said, no matter what the circumstances were, such a child always perished. She was a teacher in a school for the blind, and told me she had hoped to do something for a little deaf boy who was brought there, but found it impossible to give him any instruction since he would never lift his face out of his kimono sleeves. He had been so pointed at, and so made to feel the shame and curse of his affliction, that there was nothing for him to do but hide his face forever from human sight. He never lifted it save when he was alone among the blind children who could not see him.
Through all the years since, that tragic little figure, its face buried in its sleeves, has stood in the back of my mind as the epitome of handicapped suffering. It sums up for me all that the past had to offer to physical disability. Now, however, I rejoice to say I am authoritatively informed that all that is changed; modern methods for the deaf prevail in Japan, and their condition is greatly improved. Thank God! In the light of to-day the curse is broken, and at last others like that tragic child may take their shamed faces out of their sleeves. Since he haunted me for so long, and there seemed no way in which I might help him, perhaps I may be forgiven for saying how happy it made me to be told by those interested in the welfare of the deaf that, when a delegation of Japanese gentlemen came to this country seeking further information as to our methods for the deaf, they were given, among other things, several copies of a book of mine, dealing with the human side of the subject, to take back with them to their own country.
No, with the little boy’s face out of his sleeve at last, and for myself old sights and sounds given back for enjoyment, how could I fail to shout hosannas for this present time? Are there no other handicapped folk who will raise their voices with me to its honor and glory? One recalls in Barrie’s play Peter Pan’s famous appeal to the audience to ‘wave their handkerchiefs — wave anything,’ if they believe in fairies. So now if you believe, as I do, in the magic of the present period and are grateful for its benefits, won’t you wave something — if it’s no more than an artificial leg? And though we offer our tribute and gratitude to the Lord for all the blessings He has showered upon the world to-day with earphones and spectacles, rather than with trumpets, shawms, and instruments of ten strings, be sure that He, ‘unto whom all hearts are open,’ will understand that our tribute is no less sincere for that reason — perhaps all the more so!