As some of you may have noticed, I have been absent from the writing scene for about six months. No, I haven’t retired from column writing—rather it has been a forced hiatus. Forced by an eye condition that struck without any prior warning. The affliction that stole part of my right eyesight came stealthily and silently—a white fog refusing to be dislodged obstructed my vision.
Following a battery of tests and scans of intricate eye vessels it was diagnosed that I had experienced retinal bleeding. The treatment involves a monthly injection in the eye. Is it painful? May be it is, but the trauma of what might happen otherwise, deters me from noticing the pain. Actually, I learned a valuable lesson: the threshold of pain tolerance seems to increase when faced with a serious challenge.
Fortunately, the brain compensates with one eye and I am able to conduct my normal business, including driving and reading. What keeps me awake at night, however, is not what I have already lost but, what I might still lose. Anxious thoughts cloud my mind. Will I be able to see the smile on my grandchildren’s faces or enjoy the beautiful sunset by the seaside? What about the two unfinished books lying on my bedside table? Struggling with a hidden resentment familiar to anyone with an illness or disability, I kept asking myself: “Why me?”
My doctor—a retina specialist at Johns Hopkins—is a cut and dried person. I do not get any pep talk from her. But she emanates a sense of confidence and competence that is more important than bedside manners. She tells me that I will probably regain most of my right eye vision with time. But the outcome still lies in the realm of probability!
My husband who is old school keeps telling me that I must continue to think positive and be thankful that I still have 20/20 vision in my left eye. The question that irked me initially was where should I position my expectations on the spectrum of hope to despair! I finally attained my emotional equilibrium by doing what most people do when groping in the dark (literally and metaphorically). I am praying and meditating. Although not a ritualistically religious person, prayers always provide me spiritual solace. This time it helped me look at the world with renewed interest. Each morning I wake up and draw the curtains to absorb the scenic view outside my window. The play of light and shade on the trees, the red cardinal birds so special to Virginia and the colorful petunias that my husband has lovingly planted… things that I took for granted now appear special. My granddaughter’s happy expression when wearing her ballerina dress and the Marvel characters that my two grandsons draw for me have taken on a new significance.
Interestingly, I am paying more attention to people who have surmounted their difficulties with grace and equanimity. A friend of mine lost her 31-year-old son to a motorcycle accident, but still laughs and comforts me. Another is tending to a husband who is an Alzheimer patient in his last stages, but continues to take an interest in others’ problems. Perhaps the hardest was when a close friend who supported me through the early weeks of my predicament was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer. Seeing her manage her adversity with calm composure, I have stopped asking: “Why me?”
My condition has also made me more sensitive to the obstacles and challenges that less fortunate people are dealing with. The mother struggling with her autistic child at the grocery store or the young man on crutches limping his way in the mall makes me pause and say a prayer for them. I have started counting my blessings—access to good healthcare and above all being surrounded by supportive family and caring friends.
True, there is little possibility of realising my dream of reaching the top of the summit in Machu Picchu, but I can still walk up a modest hillock and gaze at the azure sky dotted with drifting white clouds. And on a clear day while driving down George Washington Parkway the shimmering blue waters of the Potomac still appear as beautiful as before.
As a musician, I have learnt an important lesson from the entire experience. When we lose our best voice due to a calamity and can no longer hit the high notes, perhaps we should figure out a way to sing on a lower octave and use it to our advantage!
So, dear readers, I am staging a comeback—the time has come once again to write about many things … “shoes and ships and ceiling wax and cabbages and kings”… and Trump, Kashmir and Brexit!!
Milia Ali is a Rabindra Sangeet exponent and a former employee of the World Bank.