Such a Spectacle
My professor asked for students with bad vision to raise their hands. Out of a sea of 200, maybe 100 raised their hands. He called on me, and I explained that I didn’t know my number, but my contact prescription was something like negative 6 or 7. Hamevin yevin – those who know, know – and everybody else dropped their hands, with their mouths wide open in disbelief. Wow. She can barely see! Professor asked me a follow-up question based on the response, “So, can you not drive without your glasses?”
“Drive?!” I laughed. “Without my glasses, I cannot walk.”
My prescription is worse now – negative 8 – making me super-nearsighted, and I rarely find someone whose vision is worse than my own. I’m grateful every day for the advances in technology that allow me to have all-day contacts. Technology that allows me to have relatively thin glasses, when years ago, I would’ve been forced into a pair of nerdtastic Diet Coke-bottle glasses.
We talk a lot about how to teach empathy in our students at school and at camp. We show videos of the farmers who bring chocolate into our lives, tasting chocolate for the first time. We discuss the Jewish Partisans and how they saved so many people during the time of the Holocaust. We learn about children who were raised to be terrorists, but chose peace instead.
In planning this year’s Interfaith Social Action & Social Justice Day, I have been up to my eyeballs (I can’t help the puns sometimes) in all of the ways to do good around Atlanta. We have kids going to Books for Africa, to pack class packs of books to be shipped across the Atlantic. We have kids going to MedShare, to package sterile and usable medical supplies to be used in clinics and hospitals in the developing world. We’re also doing some new things this year – a pancake brunch at Safe House Outreach in Atlanta, where they will cook for and hang out with clients – and an eyeglass recovery program.
For the weeks leading up to this program, my office is buzzing with activity. I’m on the phone, I’m typing furiously on my desktop, laptop, and iPhone, sometimes all in the span of a minute or two. The room fills with supplies as the program starts to come together.
This year, there are 9,000 glasses, in brightly-colored bins, making a spectacle (zing!) of my office, as part of our on-site mitzvah project with the Lions Lighthouse Foundation. Many students have stopped by since they were delivered (2 weeks in advance), as my office is overflowing with glasses of every shape, size and color.
Teachers who, like me, have visited Poland, stopped by to mention that they were disturbed by the glasses, as it reminded them of lessons from the Holocaust. I felt these things, too. It’s interesting. It’s disturbing. It MUST mean something.
I don’t have a hard time sympathizing with people who are hungry, truly hungry. I’m pretty cranky if I don’t eat every few hours, and I know that I cannot fully fathom actual hunger.
I don’t have a hard time empathizing with people who need medical supplies. I don’t have a hard time empathizing with people who need medical supplies. I’m incredibly lucky to have had the care I’ve had for my relatively minor medical annoyances over the years. I carry an EpiPen gratefully. I don’t have a hard time empathizing with people who need books to read. I’m a voracious reader. I need books and other online content to survive.
But the glasses. Oh, the glasses. I look at them and tears well up in my troubled eyes. I think of all of the people who had their glasses taken away by heartless torturers. And then, I think of the 9,000 people who sent those glasses to Lions Lighthouse, so that they could be cleaned, sorted, and sent out to people who need their vision corrected and either had no access to or couldn’t afford to do so beforehand. All of a sudden, I’m struck in a way I haven’t been in a while.
I hope our kids, with all of their options, are as moved as I am by the opportunities they’ll have on our volunteering day.
Until then, I’ll be here, working hard, pausing only occasionally to put in some eyedrops.