Five days before Christmas 2016, my vivacious, bubbly, loving mother, Vivian Schachter, suddenly lost most of her vision. She had central retinal vein occlusion. Doctors called it “strokes in the eyes.”
She was devastated. There were tears and cries of, “How could this happen to me?”
For years, she had taken care of our family and neighbors. Now she was a reluctant patient. Mom, then 87, could no longer drive or read the small print in newspapers. However, she didn’t lose her spirit.
A couple of months later, we went to see a specialist in Manhattan. Clutching a new cane and a pocketbook containing the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that she made for us the night before, we took the Long Island Rail Road to Penn Station, and then headed for the uptown subway. Our destination was the Lighthouse Guild, an organization dedicated to helping people with vision loss, at 65th Street.
Everyone in the packed subway train seemed happy to see Mom — as if they knew her. A compact 4-foot-11, she is always smiling and looks people in the eye, chatting with random strangers as if they’re her best friends.
She started chattering away with other riders while I gently nudged her toward a seat. The train suddenly lurched, hurling Mom into the lap of a middle-aged woman. The woman was unperturbed as my mother regained her footing. Undaunted, Mom kept making small talk.
Five stops later, we were at our destination. We found the Lighthouse building, right next to Lincoln Center, and after filling out paperwork, began eating our lunch as we waited for the optometrist. When he emerged, Mom offered him half her sandwich, which for some reason, he declined.
We had a hopeful session with the doctor. Mom’s vision had gotten a bit better. We bought magnifying glasses the doctor suggested and then walked back to the subway.
Mom loves New York City; it invigorates her.
“How does everything work so smoothly?” she asked.
We passed Lincoln Center, and Mom smiled, “Wouldn’t it be great to go to an opera here and then be able to walk home?”
We got on the subway, where more passengers beamed at her. I think Mom could light up a prison.
At Penn, we made a wrong turn somewhere and ended up outside on Seventh Avenue near the Madison Square Garden entrance. Someone was talking to a crowd, so we moseyed over. I found out it was Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. He was holding a news conference to complain about how badly former Knicks’ star Charles Oakley was treated a few nights earlier when he was arrested and charged with assault after scuffling with guards during a game at the Garden. Then I lost Mom in the crowd.
Oh, no, I thought. Where is she? Then I spotted her — standing next to Adams. I think she was curious to see what was happening. If the news conference had been extended a few minutes, Mom probably would have added her two cents’ worth.
I grabbed her and we went back inside and bought two tickets home on the LIRR. After we changed at Jamaica, I looked with dismay at blighted areas outside our train window. But Mom saw something different.
“Look at that wonderful architecture, look at those wonderful old buildings,” she said. “This area will come back soon!”
She might have limited vision — and, it hasn’t gotten any better — but I wish everyone could see the beauty that my mother sees.
Reader Saul Schachter lives in Sea Cliff.