The third of four children, he was born “special” since, according to Milton, the optic nerves between his eyes and his brain never properly connected. Thus, though he can recognize light and dark, he has always been blind.
I met him Sunday morning, November 1, All Saints’ Day 2009. At church early with my husband the pastor, I was making coffee when the phone rang. Martha, our congregation’s financial secretary was working on the books in her office, so she took the call.
“Somebody over in Farthoma needs a ride to church. You want to go with me to pick him up?” Such a simple little question.
Coming into Farthoma, we found the state-owned assisted living center, with Milton waiting inside. With his collapsible cane in his right hand, I cupped his left hand behind my right elbow, and we were off. It was a cool day. He wore what proved to be standard uniform – sweatshirt and sweatpants, covered with a coat and stocking cap, the cap pulled half-way down his head, over his face. When you don’t need to use your eyes, you seek the same protection from the cold for them, as for the top of your head. It works, but people stare. Throughout his entire life people have responded thus to Milton, yet he is completely unaware.
Why did we get the call that particular Sunday morning? His Baptist church had a loud worship style, with an unpredictability and sense of disorder that eventually made Milton fearful and nervous. Thus he asked an aide named Cindy to help him find a different church in the phone book to call for a ride, and we were who she chose.
I am his means of transportation to Sunday morning, and all the other activities at church that he can possibly attend, especially now since he has taken instruction to become a member and fellow Lutheran. We order everything we can that is in Braille to bolster the faith he loves. That is an experience. And in this has been my education. I am amazed at how much the blind do not have access to. Often, they have no idea about all that is available that they are not asked to be part of, or that exists in a state from which they have no access. Even the Braille stuff. It takes months to get what we order, then, when it comes, it’s in bits and pieces or not at all. We ordered Luther’s Small Catechism six months ago…no word on it, or when it will arrive. Because they over-ordered the new Lutheran hymnal at Concordia Chicago, they sent us one of their copies, which in Braille, is seven volumes. Milton has his own copy of the Bible in Braille, in seventeen volumes. It is amazing to observe what he has to go through to find a simple text.
Milton’s entire relationship with a person is centered on their voice. When someone starts to talk, he says, something like “two octaves down”, or “three octaves up”, or “she sounds happy” etc… The worst thing for him is when he says someone speaks to him “With a sharp voice”. That inspires terror.
A blind person is completely vulnerable to the best or worst intentions of those in any room. I have become increasingly protective while at the same time I try to encourage his independence. We were in the store on a shopping trip in December, when two teenagers began to laugh at Milton. (He often contorts his face while he’s thinking, it looks odd). I immediately placed myself between them and him and glared at the boys. I then wished them a Merry Christmas – not sure why – they backed off and looked down. Milton was completely oblivious, since he doesn’t know how much of the sound in any public room has to do with him.
He told me that he has perfect pitch, so he comments every time there is a bell, car dinger, or clock tone. He says something like “B flat”, “C minor” or “D major”. When I tune the guitar for Sunday School, he has vocal disputes with the little “music store tuner” I use. My response, “Well maybe YOU don’t think that sounds like E but am tuning according to the machine this morning.” It has become a joke between us. He calls out the note and I respond “You think so?” always followed by his decisive “Yes it is”.
No one has ever told him what color he is wearing. We go over that now. Why talk about color with someone who can’t see it?… because it exists and it’s part of his life, but more, because he wants to know. Milton has a sense of color – that some colors like blue and purple are “cool”, or that red and yellow – the colors of fire – are “warm”. Until three weeks ago, Milton had never been inside the library. He has spent a lifetime “going to the ‘store’” with people who then leave him to “just sit in the car” while they shop, or run errands.
When we first met, Milton said he had a girlfriend at the center. He wanted to marry her, but was concerned about her lack of faith in Christ. The woman, Gloria, was pleasant. I met her.
My husband and I were taking him home from church one Sunday when she came up.
Me: “So, has Gloria ever been married?”
Milton: “Yes she has – six times”.
Me: “Oh. So do you ever see any of the ex-husbands, does anyone ever come to visit her?”
Milton: “They’re all dead.”
Me: “And you want to be number seven?! Milton!”
Shortly after that conversation, Gloria left the center to live with her mother in another community nearby. She has made no effort to contact Milton.
Milton’s folks are gone. Mom was kind, a GREAT cook, but Dad “had a sharp voice” and “troubles with his head” so Milton and Dad were never close. Brothers and sisters are far south or west of us, one is even in South America. They never call or write. One of Milton’s sisters’ husbands threatened to kill him with a knife once. Of course he was terrified. His sister stepped in to defend him, but Milton couldn’t run away from the danger, nor could he hide in a safe place. How does a blind man gauge safety, and then decide if a hiding place is actually well hidden?
My blind friend likes that I walk faster than other people (he needs more activity and exercise, it’s my small contribution) and we chat easily about everything. He has lots of questions.
My blind friend is a brother, and I thank God daily for the gift of his friendship. I will be writing posts to Milton in the future.