Several years ago I did a workshop down in the Essex area for people with disabilities. We'd had a lot of fun and I'd hope that a lot of learning had happened. As I was busying myself getting ready to go I noticed a woman who had not moved from her chair. I knew, from the workshop, that she was blind and her white cane sat folded up in her lap. At first I thought she was just waiting for staff or family, but no one came.
I asked as I finished loading the briefcase, "Are you waiting for someone?"
"I was just waiting to ask you a question," she said quietly.
As this was a workshop on abuse, I prepared myself. "Yes."
"You are good with words, I like the stories you told," she said and I thanked her for the compliment.
"So, you wanted to ask me a question," I reminded her.
"Yes," she paused like she was trying to find the words, "I don't mind being blind but I've always wondered something."
"What's that?" I asked growing more curious.
"What does blue look like, the colour blue, what does it look like?"
I was stumped. Everything I thought of to say didn't work, saying, "It looks like the sky, the ocean, cornflower ..." only works if you've seen a sky, an ocean, a cornflower.
"It looks happy," doesn't work when people get blue when they are sad.
All I could say is that was that blue was like the scent of vanilla - it smells one way in the jar, another in a cake, another in perfume, another in a candle, another in soap ... blue looks different and feels different almost every time you see it.
She was disappointed that I hadn't been able to help her. I could not, for the life of me describe the colour blue. I've thought of her often over the years. Every time I land at an airport at night and see the remarkable blue cobalt lights, I think of her. Sometimes when the sky is that white blue of crisp days, I think of her. Sometimes when I see the gentle blue of my favourite towel, I think of her.
And I thought of her again today.
Ruby, Mike and Merissa's daughter has a cousin that went into the hospital for something routine and something exceptional happened.
Mike's voice was shaky on the phone when we talked, "They called a 'Code Blue' three times today."
I've seen blue as happy and sad, I've seen blue as gentle and joyous, I've seen blue as homesick and lovesick, but today I understood blue in a new way - terror. As I prayed for the baby I added a new entry under the colour 'blue' in my mental dictionary. And I thought of her sitting there waiting for me to answer.
But I still don't know what I'd say to her, even after years of thought. I once started a letter to her saying, "The colour blue looks like ..." and that's as far as I got.
I'm not a poet.
Some days I'm barely a writer.
But I don't know what the colour blue looks like.
But I think I should have said that the colour blue doesn't matter when it can't be seen. I should have asked her what vanilla smelled like when you couldn't see the cake. What sun felt like when you couldn't see the light. What love sounded like when you couldn't see the smile.
I think that's what I should have said.
Now I just have to figure out what I should have said to Mike.