Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Judith Glasser, 1936-2015

For decades, comics in search of easy laughs have fallen back on the mother-in-law joke.  Apparently enough people have difficult relationships with their mothers-in-law that they're a reliable way to get a few laughs out of even the toughest crowds.

For over 40 years, however, my response to such jokes has been to thank my lucky stars.  My mother-in-law, Judith Glasser, was one of the finest people I've ever known.  Her compassion, her patience, and her willingness to do whatever it takes to help those around her have been an inspiration to me and to almost everyone lucky enough to known her.

The Talmud teaches that some of our moral obligations are absolute, but others are more contingent:  if you are walking through the woods and find a baby bird that has fallen out of its nest, you have a responsibility to try to help it if you can, but you have no responsibility to comb the woods in search of distressed birds.  In other words, as a finite being in a specific time and place, you can't do everything, and you have the greatest and deepest responsibility to those nearest you.  A refugee on the other side of the planet deserves what support and assistance you can provide, but a troubled person in your own community demands your time and attention.

Judith's patience and compassion seemed infinite to me.  Wherever she lived, she attracted people who needed her, and she would spend long hours talking through their problems, encouraging them, and often assisting them in more concrete ways.  Often these were difficult people with difficult problems, for whom few others had the patience, but Judith always did.  She never brokered a peace deal across an ocean, or otherwise drew the attention of the wider world.  She simply transformed the lives, one at a time, of the baby birds she found in her path.  And by both words and example she encouraged everyone around her to make better choices, to do the right thing, to be better people.

In recent years, Judith and Larry spent their winters in Spain, where  Judith saw something special in a shy Spanish high school girl,  beyond the constrained brightness permitted by the Spanish school system, and spent three winters tutoring and encouraging her.  This very month, she is applying to go to university in America, another life changed by Judith, this time across a gulf of culture and sixty years of age.

Alas, she was the last baby bird.  Last month Judith died suddenly, while she and Larry were in Valladolid, distant from all their relatives.  Having lost both my parents, I thought myself somwhat hardened, but have been surprised at the depth of my grief.  The world without Judith seems a harsher, less caring place.  It seems to me that the only appropriate tribute is for those of us who loved her to find a way to ourselves be more caring, compassionate, and patient.  I doubt that I can live up to her example, but in her memory I will try to come a bit closer.

[Donations in honor of Judith Glasser may be made to: Planned Parenthood, 160 Stone St., Watertown, NY 13601-3250, or to the local animal shelter in Potsdam - 17 Madrid Ave, Potsdam, NY 13676.]

Monday, January 26, 2015

Never Take Color for Granted

Chris is seeing blue & yellow in art for the first time.  At the aquarium, he saw fish and coral where he'd previously seen blurs.

It would be difficult to overstate how much my life has changed since, about 4 months ago, I took a big step away from color blindness.

People close to me have have noted changes in my personality -- they say I'm more patient, relaxed, or happy.  I suspect it's all true.

But after four months of color, today was another notable day.  For the first time in four months, I took color for granted.

I hope I never do it again.

In my defense I can say that I had just spent a grueling but exciting weekend in Chicago, filming other color blind people seeing colors for the first time, using the new AmplifEye prototype digital technology for bringing color to the color blind.

I got home from Chicago after midnight Sunday, intending to go straight to sleep, but made the fatal mistake of "peeking" at the 63 gigabytes of video from the weekend. The video shows unmistakable success in bringing color to the color blind.   I fell asleep at 5, woke up in a daze at 9, and was passably lucid in the afternoon, when I drove into town to buy groceries.

As I was getting into the car, I realized I had left my color-correcting glasses inside.  They're usually around my neck, but in my mental fog I had left them on my dresser.  I was cold, and decided that  I could do without color for a run to the grocery store.  I took color for granted.

I didn't miss color on the drive to the grocery -- pretty much everything is white this time of year.  Entering the store, I came face to face with the produce.

For 57 color blind years, I had I bought produce without much trouble.  The only real problem for me was determining whether bananas were ripe.  In my previous life, I would have stopped a friendly looking person, explained that I was color blind, and asked which bananas to buy.

I couldn't do it.  My color blindness never used to feel like a handicap, but now it did.   Rather than beg a stranger for banana help, I bought a pomegranate.

The bananas didn't matter.  What mattered was... everything else.  Surrounded by fruits and vegetables, I was perfectly qualified to transact the commercial business of buying non-banana groceries.  But I have taken a bite of the color apple, and I am no longer innocent of the knowledge of what I'm missing.  Looking at the produce was the antimatter equivalent of a "wow" moment.  In a word, it was sad.

To date we've tested 3 other color blind people using the AmplifEye technology.  Every "wow" -- and there are plenty of them -- has a tinge of regret for years lost without color.  Even 17 year old Chris spoke of the time he had lost.

I've turned my own 57-year tinge of regret into a new mission.  I want to give the gift of color to every color blind child, at the earliest age possible.  The earlier kids get treatment, the more colors they will learn to see, and the less they will ever need to regret.

As a few of you know, I'm working my way up to a crowdfunding effort to turn the AmplifEye prototype into a reality. Whether that's news to you or not, I invite your comments on this draft explanation of what we want to do:

Life is worth living without color. The color blind don't need to be pitied.  As far as handicaps go, color blindness is a pretty small one.  But everyone deserves color in their life.  In a few weeks, I'll be asking for your help spreading the word about the crowdfunding.  But in the meantime, consider this:  1 out of 12 males (and 1 in 200 women) is color blind, with half of them considered moderate to severe.  How many of the people you care about are colorblind?  Who are they?  And what would you do if you knew you could bring color into their lives?

John, seeing green in Van Gogh for the first time.   Pictures of forests also astonished him.  I, on the other hand, was gobsmacked by the red in sunsets.