I sat at my desk wondering how I was going to make it through the afternoon as my energy was low. The enormous need at the hospital where I worked felt overwhelming; unable to tell if anything I was doing made a difference, I felt like my efforts were futile. Suddenly, I was jolted out of my looming despair by the sound of the telephone.
“Hello,” I answered.
“Hi, I’m glad I found you,” a gentleman replied cheerfully.
“Who is this?” I asked.
“Ma’am, this is Archie Baldwin. I’m in room 604 and I’m going home today, but I need a little help before I leave. I want to make a thank-you card for the nurses, but I became blind on Christ- mas. Do you think you can help me? “
“Sure,” I answered, my heart swelling on hearing this man with such delightful energy. “Perhaps he is the miracle I needed to convince myself to show up one more day in this pit of a hospital,” I thought. Armed with paper, pens, tape, and a little chocolate from the stash on my desk, I arrived at room 604 to find Archie laying in his bed, knees up, his gown having fallen off them, revealing his diminishing buttocks and scrotum.
“Hi, Archie, I’m Julie, the person you talked with a few minutes ago,” I announced. His expo- sure made me wonder if I should tell him his family jewels were on display or just let it be.
“Thank you for coming,” he said. “I really want to make this card. I’ve received such good care, and I am very grateful. “
“How long have you been here?” I asked.
“Since Christmas—that’s when I became blind. I was born with one bad eye, but on Christmas I had an aneurysm and now the other one’s gone. Even so, I see some things, like the red dots on the ceiling.”
I looked at the white ceiling, hoping to see red dots. “Archie, there are no red dots on the ceiling,” I replied.
“Well, I see them,” he chuckled. “I also saw squirrels playing in the trees this morning. They were chasing each other and having so much fun. I know you can’t see them, but I’m quite an outdoorsman. I think that’s why I’m seeing squirrels and trees. It’s my brain showing me things. I can see things I couldn’t see before because my eyes were in the way.”
My heart leapt toward this person, who, despite his condition, had a wonderful perspective on life.
“Archie,” I confided, “I’ve often wondered, if I had to lose one of my senses would I choose sight. I have suspected it would keep me from making a lot of judgments I base on appearances.”
Archie continued, “Yeah. I used to be shy— until Christmas, when I couldn’t hold back because of what people looked like. The loss of my sight has made me feel how people are by how they behave, not how they look.”
I was amazed that he could see positive aspects of his condition and how these had caused him to let go of old ways. “Do you remember Walnettos?” he added, smiling.
“Of course I do,” I answered, recalling the chewy candies of my youth and the feelings of comfort and joy associated with eating them. The word flooded me with memories of walking to our neighborhood grocery to buy the penny candy.
“Well, I have a whole bag of them over there on the dresser. Get them.”
“Just a minute, Archie. Do you like chocolate? “
“Yes, I love it!” he exclaimed.
“Well, I’ve got some for you in my bag,” I told him, glad that I had followed my intuition to bring chocolate along so I had something to share with him. After he had unwrapped the shiny gold foil from the midnight chocolate, Archie said,
“I play the harmonica. It’s here somewhere on the bed.” I spotted a black case and handed it to him. “I haven’t played for thirty years,” he said, “but here goes.”
As he played, I envisioned myself clogging— western tap dancing—but thought better of it after wondering if my blind friend might be startled. Instead, I applauded, and Archie bowed his thanks.
“You really can play,” I said admiringly.
“I’m a little rusty, but they used to pay two hundred and forty dollars for me to play!” he explained, smiling at the memory of bygone days.
“So what would you like the card to say?” I asked, bringing us back to the task at hand.
“I just want them to know how good they— and you—have made me feel. It’s like I’ve made new friends for life,” he mumbled.
“I think you’re wonderful, Archie,” I replied.
“Are you a certain religion?” he questioned. “Not really,” I answered. “I like parts of all kinds of traditions. “
“I was raised Episcopalian but hated the dogma,” he confessed.
“Yeah, dogma is bullshit,” I replied.
“You’re more beautiful than I thought,” he said, laughing and shaking his head back and forth.
We finished the card together, with me drawing purple hearts and writing in red letters a message to all those who had been so kind to him.
“If you’ll help me walk to the front desk, I can deliver this myself,” he then suggested.
“I’m game if you are, Archie,” I agreed. A nurse at the station frowned at our two- person caravan and asked, “What are you doing? “
“We’re delivering a card,” I chirped.
“No, with that,” she grumbled pointing to the floor. I turned and saw Archie’s catheter bag dragging along behind us and told Archie about her objection.
“Oh, well, think of it as just a little gift for everyone,” he said as we laughed.
After we had delivered the card and giggled our way back to his room, I said, “I play the flute. Would you like to hear it? “
“Oh, yes!” he answered. As I played, Archie’s heart broke open and he sobbed.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been touched that deeply,” he whispered.
I hugged him and said, “Thank you, Archie, for inviting me to come today. “
“Thank you,” he replied. “You saved me today.”
As I left the room, I thought to myself, “No, you saved me.” Upon reflection, I realized it was my despair that had allowed me to fully experience Archie, while his blindness had been the catalyst for him to really see me. As a result, each of our hearts had broken open spontaneously, moment to moment, in sadness and in joy. Our interaction had led to a joining of souls. I had ceased feeling futile as I helped him express gratitude to others. Imagining what the world would be like if I stopped using my eyes to make judgments, and instead assessed people and situations with only my heart, had dissipated my despondency. For both of us it had been like discovering an oasis in the middle of a desert, a place of hope for him in his blindness and for me in my despair. Because of this, I understood that a broken-open heart is not only about sadness but also about vulnerability, gratitude, and joy.