Selis Manor is an unassuming brick building just around the corner from my office, one which I had walked past many a time without a second thought. I found the application of the honorific manor to be a gross overestimation on the parts of the founders, as nothing about the facility suggested anything resembling grandeur. I suspected not much attention had gone into the decor since most of the occupants couldn’t see it anyway, and that struck me as depressing for reasons I couldn’t pinpoint.
At the reception desk, I was directed down a grungy staircase to the basement, where a cluster of blind or nearly blind New Yorkers were assembled for arts and crafts time. A group of middle-aged Hispanic women took up residence at my table and chattered nonstop to each other in Spanish, ignoring me save to ask for more stuffing every few minutes. I turned my attention to a polite Russian woman named Yeva, who seemed more interested in actually speaking than complaining about the size of the bears we were stuffing.
Yeva, unlike most of the participants, had retained some level of vision, so she finished stuffing her bear in under ten minutes. We still had nearly 45 minutes left, so I set about crafting a faux fur commissar hat to dress him up (obviously, this was a male bear since it was blue).
Yeva had lived in New York for nearly 40 years, and remembered little of her time in Russia. The difficulties of living with a disability in the city were not as great as one would think, she told me, as long as the ambulette drivers remember to call up when they arrive. Given the fact that former Governor David Paterson is blind, this made some sense to me, but I still marveled at the ability of nearly 60,000 blind people (estimate courtesy of VISIONS) to avoid getting hit by erratic Pakistani drivers on a regular basis.
Back in the safety of my apartment that night, I took out my contacts and wandered around in my natural blurred state for a few minutes, trying to imagine what like would be like if every sign were just a furry square, and every face a flesh-colored blob.
My bout with cancer had given me brief insight into the lives of the disabled; yet, however much I might worry that the bad cells might return to get me, I have been thankful the whole time that my state was only temporary.
On this particular evening, I felt doubly so.