The One-Eyed Man



Somewhere in the deep and ancient bowels of my blog there’s mention of a thin, wiry old soul who once rode my 358. She was part of the methadone crowd. There was a time when she could walk without a walker. She used to scamper through the air. She was in her fifties, and she scampered. If you saw her from behind, you’d underestimate her age by at least three decades. I knew her when she was homeless, and when she wasn’t. Now she has her own apartment, moves a little slower, and a friendly red walker joins her on her escapades.

We can’t choose how time takes its toll on our bodies, but we can control much of how our minds age; hers remains spry, always with a ready grin when I show up. Stooped over her walker, a ninety-pound waif with a map of hardship and laughter writ softly on the lines of her face… I’ll honk and wave from across the street, and she comes back to life, eagerly returning the wave. You never know how much a little effort like that can make someone’s day, how it reminds them they live in the hearts of others. Dawna. She’s known me longer than some of my closest friends.

“Alright, miz Dawna,” I said as she was rising to leave my bus. “Thanks for stoppin’ in!”
“I’m blind in my left eye now,” she said from behind her round spectacles. “If you’re blind in one eye, does that mean you’re blind?”
“Well, I’m glad you still got that other one to work with.”
“Yeah, but I got cataracts in my right eye.”
“Well, you know what they say.”
“In the land of the blind…the one-eyed man is king!”

I don’t know why I said that, or what compelled me to do so. It barely made sense. It was hardly relevant.

But it was the perfect response to that moment. Dawna processed the line, and then lit up the night sky with her devil-may-care grin. I still count for something, the line said. Out here in this crazy world, I’ve still got it. That was the true meaning of the sentence, and that particular sequence of words somehow burrowed the sentiment to a place where she could feel it and be proud. We smirked at each other, winking with our whole faces, and we knew as long as we reached out to each other, gave a little love, everything was going to be all right.

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Nathan Vass is an artist, filmmaker, photographer, and author by day, and a Metro bus driver by night, where his community-building work has been showcased on TED, NPR, The Seattle Times, KING 5 and landed him a spot on Seattle Magazine’s 2018 list of the 35 Most Influential People in Seattle. He has shown in over forty photography shows is also the director of nine films, six of which have shown at festivals, and one of which premiered at Henry Art Gallery. His book, The Lines That Make Us, is a Seattle bestseller and 2019 WA State Book Awards finalist.