Celebrating World Braille Day - 4 January


It is the final weeks of 2020, a year that has seen challenges of an unprecedented nature for so many. As Paula reflects, her thoughts drift to the birthday of Louis Braille and realizes  the braille system is in use for 211 years worldwide in many languages. Her thoughts stray back to an evening in 2009.


It is a Saturday in 2009, the bicentenary birth year of a man who allowed many worldwide intellectual freedom with his communication medium of braille.  Seated at an outside table, Paula  sips strong sweet coffee from a styrofoam cup. The warm liquid is an antithesis to the playful breeze whose childlike hand ruffles her hair, wreaking havoc with her fringe whose bangs dance in the wind. As friend and companion, the honey brown strains of a saxophone playing “baker street” gently beckons, then enters, and treads lightly over her receptive auditory rug, and finally caresses her into this reflective mood in which she does not feel alone, because reflection and observation have always been her friends and sounding boards in her quest to survive and thrive.

As the buttery yellow smooth strains fall and rise in pitch she continues to reflect on her life as it was and as it is at present. It is hard to imagine that a matrix comprising six tiny dots had the powers of an abstract creator, was able to assist with the configuration of her life map and all paths she would take, up until the moment she was brought here. Here, into this moment of awareness of the richly coloured tapestry of opportunity, upon which she is privileged to “look” and enjoy every day of her life.

The high and low notes of the music alternate quickly now and are light and legato – like a butterfly taking off in flight and given the momentary power of speech it chants carpe diem! Then its flight plays its andante multicoloured song across the sky-blue palette as it aims for its next flowery destination, though lingers in her presence long enough for her reverie, like a friend reluctant to end a rendezvous.

Another sip from her cup and then she reverts back to her reflections, and realizes that the word look may baffle each sighted reader of this passage, as to them man sees with eyes alone. 

No. No. She wanted to correct the reader: because by now it should be common knowledge that one does not see with eyes alone and that there are many dimensions of awareness.

Awareness that speaks, reminding her that if not for the eighth wonder of the world, that wonder many across the global village know as Braille, she would never have taken an extraordinary journey of this nature; never EVER touched and handled each word; never crossed paths with the extraordinary people she met daily and WOULD PERHAPS always HAVE been devoid of awareness of those around her.  It is certainly true that many memorable experiences would have evaded her, such as her visit to the home and grave of Louis Braille. Here in this place of reverent reflection and gratitude, where silence is his voice speaking louder than words uttered by voices of the living, and she, reverent pilgrim, listening for each sound.

While her feet tread softly, cautiously, each step like the precise sound of styluses writing on the blank slate of the tomb floor: “I was here”.”

As she makes her way out of the tomb, the styluses write:  “…and privileged to have stepped into your presence …”.  Her final step from the tomb is a decisive dots 256, a full stop, a conclusion, a sentence in present continuous tense.

She takes another sip of her drink and realization washes over her that certainly her life would have been insipid without the other senses, who like kindly parents offer to her waking presence the smells and taste like that of sweet bread; and then, there was the merciful sense of touch, allowing music notes and syllables of words to become cerebral grey-clad friends, and then, glorious sense of sound! Offering the mercurial, gold-clad lightning streaks – rumbling across the sky! The sound of an organ, of which the note ascends high into the dome of a huge cathedral. It is these that would always remain abstractions, mere kindly distant church guests to her, allowing only superficial discourse.

What the six-dot matrix gave to her was the weight AND SHAPES OF WORDS. Like the separation of land from the see, creation of an infinite expanse, like the moment of creation: order out of thoughtless chaos, measured ounce for ounce phone for phone morpheme for morpheme; word for word; sentence for sentence thought for thought; action for action and  at last that exquisite state we know as metamorphosis, passing from the old into the new, undiscovered lands of the unknown – the unexplored.

And perhaps the only document of surety given in life, change.

The strains from the saxophone increase in volume and intensity, like the primal cry of a malnourished child in dire need of food and drink; with a compelling need to be heard– and as the notes are suspended in the air dangling courageously, brazenly stripped of all pretence,  holding out the gauntlet to be thrown down for all to fight for the rights of fellow human beings, who in many instances are still disenfranchised, still wrapped in the mists of ignorance. They are mere rolling stones who never gather the comforting moss of empowerment, the ability to choose because of literacy.

The music of gratitude rises in her and in a movement marked Adagio, an overwhelming urge unfurls in her, like a gigantic flower, to cry out loudly with sonorous voice across the plains of this continent, louder than the foghorn, and louder than the gulls raucously chanting their needs and requirements above her head. - and then, being in public she decides that to reverently mouth the phrase: “Long Live Louis Braille…” would be equally effective.

The song nears its conclusion. Alas, she can no longer sense the presence of the butterfly whose legato flight has already led it on to a sunny yellow world of b flat major potential.

As she takes a deep breath of the cool salty sea breeze, revels in the warmth of her drink, rejoicing in the sweet antithesis of sacred dusky coolness and warm sweet coffee, a welcome juxtaposition for her senses, she again allows the honey sweetness of sound to wash over her with the final notes, and softly whispers: “Here’s to you inventor of my freedom. “Long live Louis Braille!”