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The Blind Son

The Blind Son

Despite her doubts and fears, my mother had the courage to let her blind son take risks and explore the world.

by Michael Levy

I listened carefully, as I had been taught. Then I followed my white cane off the curb and across Central Avenue. For the first time in my life, I was walking to school alone, with only my cane and my memory to guide me.

For six months I had been trained to swing my cane so that when my right foot stepped forward, the cane was already exploring where my left foot would land on the next step. By the time my left foot went forward, the cane was one step ahead on the right.

The rest of America talked about baseball, listened to the Beatles and worried about Russia. My world was much smaller than that -- the ocean was two blocks behind me. The school was three blocks ahead and one block over.

It was good to be ten years old in Bradley Beach, New Jersey, a town so small that we went home for lunch and returned to school for afternoon sessions.

I didn't realize how my parents struggled to allow their blind son to take risks, fearing that I might fail or fall.

In those days, I didn't realize how my parents struggled to allow their blind son to take risks, fearing that I might fail or fall. They let me explore anyway -- in the yard, behind the garage, down the block. They knew that I needed to become more independent.

"Does he really need to ride a bicycle?" my father asked my mother, Etta. She ran alongside me until I could ride the two-wheeler on the sidewalk, find the corner and turn, and then make the trip back to our driveway.

By the time I turned off LaReine Avenue and headed towards Brinley, my steps were light and confident. Had the chilly day turned warm, or was the warmth coming from inside?

When I reached the cobblestones, I knew I was about to cross Brinley Avenue. My last crossing. Beside me was the playground fence. I just had to follow it to the entrance.

"Hello, Michael." My heart was beating fast, but I had to act cool.

"Hi, Jackie."

"Hello, Mrs. Levy."

So I hadn't walked to school alone after all. She must be very nearby if Jackie greeted her like that. Behind me, I bet that's where she is. My body turned. My face contorted. "You didn't trust me!!"

When you're ten years old, it's always about you. The only response I got was the hum of my mother's bicycle wheels as she retreated towards home.

Jumping into the Sea

I was too young then to understand that my mother was the hero that day. She had almost succeeded in hiding her anxiety from me. Confident and carefree, and very naive, I tried to convince myself that the trip was just a small adventure. Mom's imagination must have run wild, picturing me getting lost, walking out into traffic, wandering onto the railroad tracks....

Many parents of blind children are over-protective. Like Nachshon who jumped into the Red Sea before it parted for the Israelites, my mother had the courage to do the bold thing despite her doubts and fears.

I don't know how many times she took the part of Nachshon. She had the courage not to interfere when I learned to ride the bus and the train. She didn't stop me from living in a dorm at Columbia University or from traveling around New York City by subway.

Her letters and phone calls were always cheerful during my year in Jerusalem. Yet I knew, through a close friend, that she never stopped worrying. What if someone followed me? What if I became lost, with no one there to guide me?

Walking with Mom

It was summer, more than 40 years after my first solo walk to school. A home health aide was pushing my mother, now in a wheelchair, down the familiar two blocks to the Bradley Beach boardwalk. The smell of French fries, sun lotion and salt water swept me back to my childhood beach days.

Parkinson's disease had robbed Mom of her mobility and was beginning to attack her mind. She didn't want to remain on the boardwalk for more than ten minutes.

I never wanted to leave the beach. I didn't want to leave now, to witness her fading back into the living room where she sat all day. But she wanted to go home.

"I want to go on the sidewalk." We were almost home. My mother was talking to the aide.

"It's bumpy. It's not good for you," the aide soothed Mom with her lilting Caribbean accent.

"Let her go on the sidewalk if that's what she wants!" It was easier for me to yell at the good-hearted aide than it was to acknowledge my own sadness.

My mother went home the rest of the way on the sidewalk. It was the least I could do for her.

On January 20, 2008 I made my last trip to Bradley Beach. After my brother-in-law picked me up from the bus, he told me she was having difficulty getting enough air.

"She stopped breathing two minutes ago," my sister said when I came into the house. "She's gone."

Maybe she didn't want me to hear her last ragged attempts to breathe. But was she really gone?

I didn't see her during that first solo walk to school, and I don't see her now. But I still feel her presence whenever I cross an intersection. But she doesn't interfere.

Published: January 31, 2009


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Visitor Comments: 26

(26) toby klinger, July 6, 2009 4:59 PM

Childhood memories of Bradley Beach.

I remember you as Barbara's big brother--intelligent, daring and caring. Michael, you taught us "young ones" in Bradley Beach about perseverance and passion. Now I realize how big a role your mother played; she knew how to take a back seat while guiding you through the challenges. She and your father did a great job in raising all three children. All of you have been so successful in unique ways. I am so sorry to hear though about her struggle with Parkinson’s. I bet she navigated her way through her illness with similar admirable qualities.

(25) Iris Moskovitz, June 17, 2009 10:03 PM

What a courageous mother and son.Yasher Koach to Michael.

What an inspiring message! Times in our lives bring us challenges-some not so difficult, while others seem like they're impossible to deal with at the moment. We see from Michael's story , that he took each days challenge and had the"I can do this attitude." While his mother gave him the freedom to work on his challenges on a daily basis, this allowed Michael to develop into an unbelievable individual. May you grow stronger everyday in your emunah and love of Torah. All the best.

(24) Debbi S, May 12, 2009 7:37 PM

I lived next door to you in Bradley Beach

Michael I'm not sure if you remember a family of renters with 2 little kids, but I remember you. My brother David and I would play with you on your lawn. I've never forgotten those days, 38 years later. Hope you are well.

(23) LInda, February 15, 2009 8:11 PM

Inspiring to a Mother

This loving portrayal of a mother's courage to let her son grow up is a true inspiration to me. As a mother, I struggle with the issues of how much freedom do I give my children. Michael's mother must have been a true women of valor who knew how to raise her children. The piece that her son wrote, shows not only how she taught independence but how she raised a loving and respectful son. I can only pray that my own child raising choices should result in children who will become such caring and independent adults.

(22) Amy Feldman, February 15, 2009 7:36 PM

Thanks for the memories and uplifting article.

I had the privilege of knowing both your mother and father, Michael. They were truly amazing human beings. I guess their courage was contagious because you have exhibited and continue to exhibit courage throughout your life. You also married a wonderful woman of courage and determination,Chava. Just as your parents were an inspiration to so many people, so are you and your family continue to be.The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. And oh what a tree that was! Amy

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