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Where the blind see and the deaf hear.

The Garden of Eden is that mythical place where innocence was lost, a place we would all somehow like to find, be it through love, a place in the sun, a winning lottery ticket. We all await that great ship, in one form or another.

From Battery Park in New York, you can see the Statue of Liberty. I was there several months ago, at the southernmost tip of Manhattan Island.

I saw an old man feeding popcorn to pigeons. He was confined to a wheelchair and laughed as the pigeons swirled around him. A bag of popcorn was in his lap, and with both bands he threw it into the air. He would quickly grab his wheels and turn his chair with ease to see whether more birds were coming.

There was a musician, too, playing guitar and singing folk songs, his guitar case open at his feet to receive contributions. I was sure I had seen him years ago in the same place, playing the same songs. He was blind and wore a sign that said as much. He played quite well. People stopped and listened for a while. Some tossed a few coins into the case.

I also saw a young couple on a bench, holding hands and kissing. Before them stretched the East River. Across from them was Brooklyn, where I was born. I wondered whether my parents once kissed somewhere near where I stood that day, on a different bench at a different time.

I wanted to take a picture of the couple. After they kissed, they parted slightly on the bench, and I expected them to speak. They did, using their hands. They were both deaf. I don't know sign language, so I photographed them from behind, the East River before them.

On that particular day, I was more impressed with, perhaps captivated by, the movements of people who don't have things I take for granted.

Not long ago, I was in Kansas City. There is a garden for the blind there in a large park near the wealthiest area of the city. I would have walked right past it, had not some friends pointed it out to me. It was a garden of herbs, laid out neatly in rows. Before each type, there was a sign, in English and Braille. The idea was to touch the herbs and smell their fragrances. There were basil and spearmint, thyme and rosemary, something that smelled like lemon, sage and taragon. It was a garden of delights. I touched, smelled each of them until my fingers were a blend of all the scents.

My mom keeps rosary beads beneath her pillow. They are old and have gone through many repairs. I think of her fingers softly moving from one bead to the next at night, feeling as she goes, praying as she feels. Her sight has failed these days, but she sees far more than I. Something like night vision.

It has been said that Adam and Eve lost innocence because they sought to be like God. Not all innocence was lost.

Manhattan is indeed impressive, a towering testament to 20th century achievement. Cities stand as concrete and glass expressions of thought, sight, hearing and planning. Yet what is most human and growing in all of them must be discerned carefully, not unlike the feeling of beads in the night, in those places where birds descend and people gather and toss a coin, where lovers who will not ever speak discover, with a kiss, the secret and silent mystery of their being - new Edens.
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Title Annotation:Starting Point
Author:Behrens, Jeff
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Jul 16, 1993
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