This part is taken from What Didn’t Kill Me Made Me Stronger. It was in summer, 1992 after I had a vitrectomy. It’s an eye surgery that removes blood inside the eye’s vitreous fluid after a hemorrhage. After that, I never took fireworks for granted again.
The next vitrectomy was five days before my birthday. On the fifth day after such an eye surgery, the bandages come off permanently. For me, the most memorable gift that year was getting to take the bandage off my eye. As before, the world looked extremely bright and out of focus, though it was a big improvement from before the surgery. As before, I was also confident that my vision would continue to get better over the next couple of weeks. After that, my vision would remain at that level …at least until something else happened.
I don’t want to make you think I was pessimistic. The truth is I was as optimistic as ever. But it was optimism with an underlying foundation of realism. The jolt of the last eye hemorrhage had driven home an undeniable reality: I could lose my vision at any time, no matter how good it might get in the meantime. In some tiny, remote part of my brain, I understood that total blindness was a likely outcome in the end. It wasn’t a matter of if, but a matter of when. Again, this wasn’t a pessimistic outlook. It was a survival instinct at work, telling me to be prepared. I didn’t want to be caught off guard again.
My days were spent taking long walks, watching TV, and listening to books on tape. But this time, I took more notice of the colors around me. They were more vibrant. My vision improved gradually, and I took full advantage of being able to see. Each day, I could see something that I couldn’t see the day before. My vision reached a level that I was happy with, even if it wasn’t back to where it was the year before.
Then my parents and I were invited to Don and Ann Williams’ fortieth wedding anniversary party on a riverboat docked on the Arkansas River at Van Buren. Dinner was served on the boat while we cruised up and down the river between Fort Smith and Van Buren. It was very enjoyable – the first fun thing I had done in a long time. Several members of their large extended family stopped by our table to ask me how I was doing and say how glad they were that I was there. It was good to be out of the house and out of the hospital, and able to look around without a bandage over my eye or a dark spot inside of it.
A music festival was happening on the Fort Smith side of the river while we were on the boat. After dark, they shot fireworks. All of us had finished eating, and we gathered at the rail of the boat and watched. For me, the sight was one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen. The show wasn’t anything out of the ordinary as far as fireworks go. It didn’t last longer than most. But I was getting to see it with my newly healed eye, and that changed everything. The bright colors of the starbursts high above us were clear as they lit up the night. The river below reflected the brilliant light, broken into hundreds of points of color on the waves. It was beautiful, and I didn’t take it for granted, even if it wasn’t quite as clear as it would have been a year before.
Tears of joy streamed silently down my face as I stood on the dark boat.
Just keep quiet. Don’t draw attention to yourself. It’s their anniversary, so don’t make this all about you.
Around me, other people made the usual sounds people make when watching fireworks.
“Can you see them OK?” asked Mom.
“Oh yes, I can see it all just fine.” I was beside myself. Something as simple as watching fireworks had filled me with joy. It may have been Ann and Don’s party, but these fireworks were meant for me. This was my reward for what I had been through. This was God. I just knew it.
That night, I vowed never to miss fireworks if I had a chance to see them. Never again would I take for granted the ability to look up at the dark sky and see a kaleidoscope of fire and color and smoke. From then on, it would be sacred. And since then, that’s exactly how it has been.