By Karen Young, Swansboro, North Carolina
As appeared in
Having an identical twin is a little like having an echo of yourself. You’re not identical, not really. You have different opinions, prefer different foods. But there’s also a commonality most siblings don’t have. You share some of the same strengths and talents. And maybe some things that aren’t so great.
My twin sister, Sharon, and I were like that, especially when we were young. We were both math whizzes. We book advanced classes in high school and knew early on what we were going to be: CPAs. Then one day in algebra I noticed Sharon squinting at the blackboard. “Can you make out that equation, Karen?” she asked. I stared at the board. I had trouble reading it too. “Maybe we should sit closer,” I said. Pretty soon that didn’t help either. Neither did glasses. To both Sharon and me, things looked blurry on the periphery and dark in the middle. And it was happening fast. I practically had to hold a book up to my nose to read it. Sharon needed to be just a foot or two away from the TV screen.
An eye specialist at Duke University diagnosed us with Stargardt’s, a form of juvenile macular degeneration that causes progressive, irreversible vision loss. “There’s not much to be done,” the doctor told our heartbroken mom. Surgery couldn’t fix it. At an age when we should have been getting our learner’s permits we were declared legally blind. We would never drive or be able to read easily, at least not enough to go to college and become CPAs. I mean, who wanted an accountant who couldn’t even see the numbers she was supposed to be counting? But faith sustained us. Maybe God had made us twins so we wouldn’t have to suffer alone. We both went to junior business college, then joined my mom and our other sister in their house-cleaning business, KT Cleans.
Sharon and I married and had kids at about the same time. There was nothing about being blind that prevented us from enjoying life’s greatest blessings, love and work. And we were great workers. Scrubbing sinks, vacuuming, dusting—we used to joke that because of our vision impairment we had to be particularly conscientious in case we missed something. I mean, nobody cleaned like we did!
Our area has a lot of vacation rentals, so summers can be hectic. But with the people we work for year-round it’s different. Take Mrs. Smith. We’ve been cleaning for her for four years now. We have a professional relationship but we’re friends too. That’s how it happens in a little Southern town, I guess. Everybody knows everybody. We always sit a spell and talk about our kids, our families, how everyone is doing. Mrs. Smith is known around here for her cooking, and we are sometimes the beneficiaries of a new recipe she’s trying out for her book group or the famous dip she makes for her husband’s poker games. And she worried about us, which was sweet, because we didn’t need her to worry. Still, Mrs. Smith would read something on the internet about Stargardt’s, some new advance or treatment, and tell us all about it. Not that there was usually much to tell.
One day I mentioned to her that Mom had read a magazine article about this doctor, Edward Paul (Low Vision Doctor), who had come up with special glasses that helped people with macular degeneration. “Mom says people can see things they haven’t seen in years,” I told Mrs. Smith. “But I just don’t believe a simple pair of glasses can fix what’s wrong with Sharon and me.” “Well, you have to give it a try,” Mrs. Smith said. “You can’t give up hope.” I smiled to myself. Sharon and I were far from hopeless. It’s true that we talked about how hard it was not to see the expressions on our children’s faces when they scored a goal in soccer or accepted their diplomas.
Remember, my sister and I knew what it was like to see. We remembered what the world looked like to most people. I admit, there were plenty of times it hurt. But we also knew how blessed we were, how full our lives were and how surrounded by love we were. Nothing can blind you to love. Give me the choice between love and seeing and I’ll take love every time.
Mom agreed with Mrs. Smith, though. “At least you should go visit Dr. Paul,” she insisted. “It can’t hurt.” His office was in Wilmington, not too far away, so we went. And it changed everything! The next time we saw Mrs. Smith we could hardly contain ourselves. “The doctor had us try on these lenses,” I said. “For the first time in thirty years we could read! He held up a piece of paper and I could make out every word.” “That’s wonderful,” Mrs. Smith said. “When do you get them?” “I’m not sure we can. They’re expensive, and insurance won’t cover it.” “How much?” she asked “Eight hundred dollars for a pair,” I said. It went without saying that we would both get a pair. If one of us could see then both of us had to see. “Maybe someday,” I added. At least there was hope now.
We didn’t see Mrs. Smith for another two weeks—our usual cleaning schedule. By then we weren’t thinking much about the glasses. We were finishing up our work when she sat us down. I nudged Sharon. Maybe Mrs. Smith had something good coming out of the oven.She took one of our hands in each of hers. “I told my book group about the glasses. Everyone was agreed. You have to have them. We’re going to make it possible. We’ll all share the cost.” Eyes do other things besides seeing. Like crying. And ours were working just fine in that department. “We don’t want charity, Mrs. Smith….” She hushed me right up. “It’s not charity, Karen. It’s friendship.” And maybe that’s something else about small towns—we look out for one another.
So Sharon and I got our glasses. And we can see our children’s faces and behold a sunset without having to do it with our memories. We can see God’s big beautiful world as clearly as ever, and all the good people in it. Sharon and I might have to get our CPA degrees after all. That’s what it might take for us to be able to count all our blessings.