A blind man walks into a ho­tel …

The Denver Post - - OP-ED - By Gar­ri­son Keil­lor

Went in for eye surgery the other day, which re­minded me of an old wheeze of a joke, which I told to peo­ple as they pre­pared the prisoner for ex­e­cu­tion: A man walked by the in­sane asy­lum and heard the in­mates shout­ing, “Twenty-one! Twenty-one!” They sounded ec­static and he stopped to have a look. He put his eye to a hole in the fence and they poked him in the eye with a sharp stick and yelled, “Twen­tytwo! Twenty-two!”

The se­da­tion guy was busy and didn’t laugh but the nurse did. She was an an­gel and how often do you get to meet one? She grew up on a farm in south­west­ern Min­nesota, is the mother of two teenagers and a pro­fes­sional pos­sessed of warmth and hu­mor. She did the prep, slipped the IV in, ran through a bat­tery of ques­tions, and pat­ted me on the shoul­der about 27 times in the course of an hour. A life­long reader/writer like me blanches at the thought of his eye be­ing sliced while he ob­serves up close. This woman’s ease and kind­ness changed ev­ery­thing. Ev­ery thing.

Of course the out­come de­pends on the oph­thalmic sur­geon, who is also a kind and car­ing woman, but by then I was se­dated, mes­mer­ized by bright lights. The pro­ce­dure lasted an hour, and when I was back on my feet, a patch over the eye, woozy but am­bu­la­tory, I walked out into bright sun­light and into the world of the hand­i­capped. It was not easy to fig­ure out when to cross the street to my ho­tel. In the ho­tel hall­way, I had to read room num­bers up close, hop­ing no­body would sud­denly open a door and find a tall man with an eye­patch peer­ing at their peep­hole and call the po­lice.

Back in the room, I hung up my jacket, opened my lap­top and I couldn’t see the keys that would in­crease font size to where I could read the text. I lay on the bed and con­tem­plated the prospect of life as a man in a blur. I dozed. I turned on the TV. I couldn’t watch it, only lis­ten. I clicked around, hop­ing for a friendly voice, and every­one sounded hyped-up and weird, canned laugh­ter, big car­ni­val barker voices, big woofers and scream­ing meemies, and then I found a ball­game. Two men, talk­ing nice and slow in level tones, de­scrib­ing ac­tions tak­ing place be­fore their eyes. Play­ers I didn’t know play­ing games I didn’t care about, but those were the voices of my un­cles dis­cussing cars, gar­dens, fu­ture con­struc­tion projects, the se­cret of pour­ing con­crete, and that was re­as­sur­ing, to know that the coun­try has not come un­hinged.

Kind­ness and blind­ness, all in one day. Back to ba­sics. I think kind­ness does not come nat­u­rally to men. We bark, we har­rumph, but ten­der­ness is a stretch for us. The grief-stricken mother lies in bed, keen­ing, and her women friends take turns stroking her back, while the men sit stiffly in the next room, try­ing to make con­ver­sa­tion.

It’s a small thing, kind­ness, but when you’re in the hands of a large in­sti­tu­tion with a bar code for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, kind­ness feels like the key to civ­i­liza­tion it­self and the ful­fill­ment of the word of the Lord. And the com­bi­na­tion of kind­ness and the high-pow­ered in­tel­lec­tual acu­ity of modern med­i­cal science is a mir­a­cle of our time. Amer­ica is the land of sec­ond chances and that’s what modern medicine has brought us.

I lay in the ho­tel room hear­ing my un­cles discuss the price of feed corn and it oc­curred to me, not once but sev­eral times, that I am a for­tu­nate man and thank you, Lord. Medi­care A and B and a good group health policy and for sav­ings to cover any short­fall. The 23 million peo­ple who may lose their health in­sur­ance in the next few years if Congress does as the man wishes will face some high bar­ri­ers be­tween them and any sort of eye surgery. This does not come un­der the head­ing of Kind­ness.

Eighty per­cent of evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians who cast bal­lots last fall voted for the man, who seems as far from Christian virtues (hu­mil­ity, kind­ness, pa­tience, etc.) as Hulk Ho­gan is from the Dalai Lama. These are peo­ple who pray for guid­ance. So ap­par­ently Je­sus got the story wrong. The rich man came to Lazarus who was cov­ered with sores and asked for a tax break and the rich man was re­warded and Lazarus went to hell. Do unto oth­ers as you are glad they don’t have the means to do unto you.

Gar­ri­son Keil­lor is an au­thor, en­ter­tainer and for­mer host of “A Prairie Home Com­pan­ion.”

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