Japanese Fine Work
"The day words vanished"
Hiroshi Komori (55, Male, teacher)
The distant mountains looked strangely dark and dull. Streets seen from a car window looked heavy and sad, despite the bright voices of the high-school girls. The scene reflected the somber feeling in my heart.
I was on the way home from work on the day when words suddenly vanished before my eyes. To someone who makes his living from dealing with words, this was the biggest crisis I'd ever faced. I thought my time had come, but the shock was bigger than I could have imagined. A feeling of helplessness overcame me, even though I'm naturally an optimistic person. But I stayed calm in front of my family and tried not to show my despair.
After that, without complaining to anybody, I locked away the disappointment I felt at suddenly losing the words I'd been familiar with for half a century. At times I've been pushed to the brink of despair, but I've been brought back by the warm smiles of my family as they watch me without saying anything.
However, I couldn't accept reality for a long time. While I fully realized that it was an impossible dream, I sometimes expected that my symptoms would improve and I would be able to see words clearly again when I woke up in the morning, as if I were recovering from a cold.
I had lived a peaceful and quiet life, so life without the written word was unbearable. I knew the situation would never improve if I continued forever to bemoan my ill fortune. It didn't take long before I felt sure that rediscovering the words I'd lost would lead me to rediscover myself.
Luckily, I was working at a school for the blind, where the conditions were satisfactory. I'd encountered braille when I started working at this school, so I thought I'd already acquired a fair amount of knowledge about it.
Reading braille with my eyes, one letter at a time, was hard enough. I'd never considered what it would be like to read by touch alone. I felt that the touch-reading performed so effortlessly by blind students was almost supernatural. I tried touch-reading many times, but I couldn't get it and so became frustrated with myself.
I remembered the faces of some students who had already graduated without having learned either normal words or braille. A common problem for them was that they couldn't concentrate on braille at all, and would get stuck on these invisible letters. Because they were having trouble accepting their handicap, it was taking them a long time to learn braille.
At first I too had difficulty breaking away from the written word. This was because I believed I would some day be able to see words again, and I resisted being stigmatized as a braille user. From one day to the next, as I felt deeper despair at having lost the joy of reading, my loneliness was beyond description.
To quickly rid myself of this feeling, it became my main priority to learn to read braille. There was also no other way to get back to work and to regain my sense of self. Once I'd sorted out my feelings, I found it easy to adapt to braille, even though it had once seemed tough. I soon got a handle on it.
Braille, which had seemed like something so artificial, began to appear to me as distinct letters, each with its own personality. I became able to read braille with surprising ease. That was when I knew I'd successfully acquired touch-reading.
It all felt a little anticlimactic at first, but it was especially gratifying that I could acquire touch-reading in spite of my difficulties. I usually don't show my feelings easily, but now I was laughing to myself.
Along with braille, sound-guided computers expanded my future horizons. My passion for the written word led me to computers despite my ineptitude with machines. The pleasure of writing without needing assistance from others was nothing compared with braille. Rediscovering the written word, albeit on a computer screen, also led to a rediscovery of myself -- someone who has spent a long part of his life with words. I felt my body fill with energy as I took my first steps after being reborn. Acquiring touch-reading of braille and learning to use computers have led to my renaissance. I'd be lying if I said the pain I felt that day when words vanished had completely healed. Yet I hope to open my life to dreams and cherish the written word, keeping my belief in the unlimited potential for those living in the world of blindness.