If any well-meaning person during the early weeks of my new blindness had dared to suggest that there were some serendipitous benefits or comforting surprises in my condition, I—who am a pacifist—would have pummeled him. There is really no comforting someone who has lost vision. Or so I thought. Thus I am astounded and dazzled by the generosity and thoughtfulness of the U.S government. It funds the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library (of which I had never heard). This is a part of the New York Public Library.
Way back in 1945, at Brooklyn College, I took Classical Civilization, a course required of all Liberal Arts students. I, an orthodox Jew from an impoverished family, was fascinated and seduced by Ulysses and Penelope, Orpheus and Eurydice, and the whole ancient panorama. There was no room in my curriculum for more of the same, though I loved the readings, and I always intended to take further classical electives. But the required courses in education and English chewed up my credits, and I had to think about preparation for a job. So I never got back to those ancient works. Though through the years, I have often gotten fleeting glimpses of the ancient Greeks and Romans in contemporary fiction, I never really did Classical Civilization.
But now I am doing it! Thanks to the direction from the Lighthouse for the Blind in New York, I am now listening to the great literature of the world: two magical machines arrived in the mail, both a disk player and a tape player, along with a large catalog of available recordings of an unbelievable amount of great literature. Even the packaging was remarkably thoughtful. The machines and the disks could be returned in the same pre-addressed cartons. A blind person can handle these transactions independently. The machines and the individual tapes are so basic and simple anyone can operate them. Along with these came a sampling of disks, and the first one I opened was the Aeneid. I had read the Odyssey and knew of the Aeneid, but I’d stopped with the Greeks. My love of print heretofore had kept me snobbishly away from ever “listening” to a book, except for an abortive attempt with a twenty-five dollar boom box. I did not operate it successfully, and feared breaking it though my children pointed out that a twenty-five dollar loss would be negligible.
With this new machine I am enraptured for hours. It is so simple I do not feel threatened and I look forward to using it. This single disk is twenty-one hours long. It’s read by a cultured gentleman who obviously enjoys what he’s doing. I don’t think I’ve ever sat as long with a book as I did with the first segment of this work. So yes, something good has come of my condition. I could indeed have lived without it, but my life has been enriched by it. Now I sit and listen and imagine.
I need not close my eyes. I see it all.