by Kevin Burton
How do you get to 50 years? It starts with a day, or a night.
Then, you turn your heart toward the sunrise, again and again.
There was a night when my parents put me into the family Delta 88 and drove me from our home in Yellow Springs to the Ohio State School for the Blind in Columbus.
It was Sept. 3, 1972.
My memory is that I arrived at the school at night, in time only to put my things away and go to bed. So Sept. 4 is maybe the real anniversary. The real 50-year anniversary.
It’s the day a houseparent woke me up and sent me off into my new routine, my new reality.
God’s hand was at work, though I screamed like the devil against it at the time. There was a letter I wrote home, now etched in family lore, where I explained how unhappy I was by using six or seven verys.
Unmoored is what I was. But day by day, something was happening. Whatever I have turned out to be for better or worse, began its formation at that time.
If you don’t have time for, and if I don’t have writing space for, fifty years of content and memories, you could sum it all up in feeling, if not in narrative, with one song, “I Can See Clearly Now,” by Johnny Nash.
It was all over the radio at the time and would reach number one in November of 1972 and stay there for four weeks. It has always symbolized that time and place in my life.
I have written about it at least once before on Page 7, (“Of Obstacles, 2020 and Seeing Clearly,” Dec. 18, 2019).
The song is like a physical space, a personal place I can enter, like a child climbing into a treehouse. Once I’m in there, it might be a while before I want to come out to deal with the rest of the world.
The song slips in quietly without bombast, then Nash sings clearly about seeing clearly and a bright, bright, sunshiny day.
Before you know it, the song has lifted you to a cleaner, happier place.
Yes the song alludes to blindness, but that has nothing to do with my affinity with it. Now, it speaks to a clarity, a long-term view, optimism, faith and perspective. In 1972 it was just a good, calming harmonious song.
If there were ever a Kev movie (May God in His mercy spare us all from that), that song would play over the opening credits.
The voices singing of “blue skiiiiiiies” in the bridge are nothing short of ethereal and speak to a timelessness.
It’s a lot easier in this setting for me to peel apart I Can See Clearly Now, than to sum up my time at the school for the blind.
But it was the first time for me to have friends who were true peers, who understood me and who I could understand. Somewhere along the way, these blind children became brothers and sisters to me. Include the staff and what you get is a family.
If you don’t see that, your definition of family is invalid.
I put off for now a longer discussion on how blind children should be educated. Our school was sheltered. But we learned how to navigate life without our parents as a daily presence and how to truly relate with people.
Because the school was small it was easier for some of us to develop leadership qualities. You could say we were sheltered from certain things, sheltered to other things.
Fifty years on, there are no words to express fully what the people of OSSB mean to me.
Listen carefully here. I didn’t say I can’t find the words. I am really good at finding the words. At this point I am so good at finding words that they often find me first and sit in my lap like so many contented cats.
I said there are no words. Any words I could use would be superfluous, an intrusion even.
Makes writing a blog post about it quite the challenge!
Funny thing is, Nash’s words in the song are not literally true either. We never can see all the obstacles in our way. Dark clouds can reappear. Has there ever been a time with “nothing but blue skies?” Not for long.
But he paints a picture that is spot on.
Two more pictures then, of me at one of our blind school reunions. The first is of me with a group of fellow alums, reliving the old days with laughter that dissolves into tears.
The second is of me walking around, alone, silent. Looking at the present, seeing the past, listening for the echoes of my childhood.