page nine: Color and Other Blindness
It was a bright weekend in December. We had finished lunch and I was settling down on the couch for my little catnap. My husband, Krish, walked in with the mail. There was the usual junk mail and a few year-end cards from families we know, most of them with their annual family picture. He was opening each up and looking at them when I heard him say, "Uh-oh, someone's in trouble!" Curious, I asked him what was going on. A puzzled expression on his face, Krish was looking at a card that he said had listed the names of all the members of the family but one. He assumed it was a mistake.
"Bring it here," I said, sitting up now. I looked at the card. It had the family picture in the center and around it, printed, each in a distinct color, was the name of each member. I read aloud, "Jake, Patti, Polly, Anna, Bruce, Sean and Bud, their dog." They were all here.
"They have four children and they are all named and so is their dog. What's the problem?" I asked. "I do not see Sean on the card," Krish said. But I could see his name. “No, he is here.” I pointed it out to Krish now, wondering why he couldn't see what I was seeing.
"Where is it?" he asked. Now a little impatient, I pointed to it again. He still did not see it. He could see the others. Just not this one. "What color is it in?" he asked me. Sean's name was in a deep shade of purple-indigo.
“Ah, that’s a color my eyes do not get!” Krish is a little color blind. Just a stray shade here or there and this was one of them. So that was how the mystery was solved.
I lay back on the couch but couldn't nap. I was intrigued by the experience. Two people looking at the same thing yet not seeing the same thing. How often have we not experienced this in our life? Yet how often do we realize it is not intentional?
In the moments before we figured out that his color blindness was the culprit, I had begun to get a little annoyed, almost as if he were “choosing” not to see. When things don’t go our way, the first thing we do is to ascribe the fault to someone. Pema Chodron, the Buddhist teacher, calls this “setting the target for our arrow,” instead of going through the experience.
I had already been setting Krish as the target for my frustration before I realized he was not seeing because he couldn’t.
What if humans were subject to not only color blindness but many other forms of blindness, that have never been named as such? And what if these were not by choice?
I remember days when my daughter would come home from school, close to tears, because of being confused for the other Asian-American girl in school. Why don’t they see we are different, mom, she would cry.
Was this a different version of “color blindness” that, while being hurtful, was again, unintentional?
Then I know many adults who have grown up in families, raised by parents who couldn't see their particular shade of temperament. People who, as children, were different from their siblings or other children in several ways and did not feel “seen” as a result. Maybe those parents suffered from a kind of blindness as well - one that saw only “normal” and did not recognize other types of individuals.
Being seen is so very important. Every human being, like a snowflake, is different and unique and meant to be so. We are wired to find greatest joy when we are being ourselves. For this we need people in our lives to see and affirm our distinct nature. Psychologists call this "mirroring."
When raised by families who are “blind,” the unseen and unlived parts of us lead us through a long journey as we roam around through life waiting to be seen, to come alive, like the sleeping princess who waits for love’s first kiss to return her to life.
As I consider the various forms of blindness, I know that some forms of blindness are incurable, like color blindness in my husband, and may God grant us the serenity to accept that. On the other hand, some other forms of blindness can be cured with education and effort. We may have come into our blindness unintentionally, but growing out of it is a conscious choice.
The world has changed and is becoming smaller and smaller every day; our vision in these times needs to become broader and broader. We need to cultivate a way of seeing that recognizes the differences in the way we look, eat, pray, and live while at the same time appreciating our shared humanity. We need to expand our definitions of beauty instead of needing everybody to fit into limited expectations.
This exercise, encouraged by the spiritual teachings of the East, is called "purification of the sense of sight," to go beyond form to see the unifying spirit within. Not doing so is a choice to embrace ignorance, indifference and sheer laziness. But if we did, what a gift we could give each other: seeing and mirroring the beauty we see in one another. One of my favorite quotes ever by Rumi says:” Show a mirror to a loved one so she may fall in love with herself.”
If an eye for an eye could make the world blind, wouldn’t a seeing like this enlighten the entire world?