Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Darkness

"Hear this you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear." Jeremiah 5:21

Something strange happened last night. A blind lady got kicked out during a performance at the Deaf-Blind Theatre. Sounds unbelievable? I might be exaggerating on the use of the term "kicked out," but...

our night definitely did not turn out as planned.

We set out for the Nalagaat Center for the Deaf Blind with a friend in Israel joining us for the theatrical performance and a unique dining experience afterward. In fact, "set out," adequately describes the evening's journey. Being the only Gentile in the company of three Jews, I should have known we might be "wandering in the wilderness!" We hopped onto public transportation only to discover we were heading in the wrong direction. We got off two stops down the road, caught a bus going the opposite way and were confident we would arrive in time for the 8:30 curtain call.

Alas, it was not to be. After getting off at what our friend vaguely remembered to be the location we walked, and walked, and walked, and walked. Unfortunately, there was no "cloud by night" for us to follow, and after 20 minutes of wrong turns, streets dead-ending into parking lots and a variety of misdirections from police and security guards we wound up exactly WHERE WE STARTED FROM! I couldn't figure out what happened to the "seek and ye shall find."

We hailed a cab and remained hopeful. Alas, it was not to be.

We finally arrived around 9:00 and waited behind someone purchasing tickets. The cashier charged him $10 less than what our reserved ticket price was! Lee gave our names, and explained the reason we were late, she asked for the same discount she had just heard given. The worker was not budging on the price and the haggling grew more intense with Lee even brandishing her cane (I use the term with humor). The woman asked us to pay afterward and go on in as it was an obvious draw between the two.

We took seats at the back and watched the first scene. It was fantastic as all the actors have some degree of deafness and/or visual impairment. There was a screen above the stage with the subtitles for what they were saying in Hebrew and English, as well as an interpreter signing off to the side. Great, profound, provocative, except...

for someone who is visually impaired.

Lee's daughter quietly read the subtitles and described what was happening. That is until...

it irritated the person sitting in front of the blind lady. Seems he wanted to observe the disabled without having to deal with them. Here we were attending a performance intended to sensitize people about the disabled community and this guy thought we were being insensitive!

Yes, I get it. It was a bit like someone talking during a movie but...

what's the point in having a play where people with disabilities express their frustration, when it frustrates and fails to accommodate a visually impaired member of the audience? So she didn't exactly get kicked out but we did make our exit.

"For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them." Matthew 13:15

Our exit into the Tel Aviv night did make me painfully aware of a deeper truth. On the surface I think we really WANT to be sensitive to others. We want to be educated as to the need and the frustration, but on OUR terms, not theirs. Tell me about how you feel, but don't make me feel it too. Our hearts grow calloused and indifferent to suffering in the community around us; not just to those affected by disability, but also the poor, and the impoverished of spirit. I prayed for patience and understanding.

We sat out on the pier and laughed. Lee has a great sense of humor and it wasn't lost when she left the Theatre. She told our friend the time she was asked to leave her service dog behind at a camp for people affected by disability! Stranger things have happened than irritating an Israeli.

The redemption of our night came inside total darkness. The Nalagaat Center operates a restaurant experience called "Black Out" that offers patrons a chance to dine in TOTAL darkness. Before you enter, the hostess asks you to remove all watches the emit light, and to stow cell phones or any other devices that may "light up." She writes down your name and dinner choice before you are led into the dining area by a visually impaired waiter. I admit, the more she explained (feel free to use your hands to eat, wear a bib to protect your clothes, don't panic) the more panic I felt.

"Even the darkness will not be dark to You, the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You." Psalm 139:12

The Psalm comforted me, sort of, but so did the waiter (Eli). He greeted us and quickly and effortlessly worked to settle our angst. We stepped into a holding room that had a small blue light on the ceiling. He then instructed us to make a train (hands on the shoulders of the person in front of you) and to move slowly through the heavily curtained off area.

Then it was black.

Ink, jet, pitch, or any other adjective I have previously associated with the color seemed inadequate; void would probably be more accurate. It was a place that lost its perspective and space. It was nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Lots of other people could be heard in the dining room but there was no sense of where they were in relationship to where I was. It was like being swallowed into the dark, it "blinded" you.

Eli had the voice of reassurance; and like we say in Texas, "this was not his first rodeo." He knew what to say to put his new corral of diners at ease. He instructed us each step of the experience, from placing our hands on top of the chairs helping us sit down, to sharing helpful hints like how to fill our water glass by placing a finger inside to judge the water level.

I realized this tip didn't help me while I was pouring the water directly on to my finger! Eli also assured us it was okay to get anxious but slowly we would adjust. He said, "you won't start seeing anything (at ALL) but you will understand that you can enjoy yourselves and eat without "seeing" what you are doing.

He got all of our orders correct (the selections are put on different shaped dishes) and served better than many sighted waiters I've had in the past. We laughed, we compared how it made us "feel," and we appreciated Lee. A woman who was able to laugh off the disappointment of a well planned evening gone awry and make us feel comfortable "seeing" a small part of her world.

Believing and seeing
God's goodness and mercy with fresh sight