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I still think about Rene in Montreal

Montreal was a great city to call home when I was a young lad.

My favorite school memory was our class’s interaction with another seventh-grade class from the Montreal Association for the Blind.

We spent a month hosting their students in our facility, paired up so that we could be their eyes. Rene was assigned to me. During the day we did everything together, and we were graded as one. It was nice to have a partner during exams. With Rene by my side, my grades improved dramatically. I was Rene’s eyes and he was my calculator, my encyclopedia, my friend.

The month passed quickly and it became time to switch. My class reported to the Montreal Association for the Blind. Just like these blind kids experiencing our sighted world, it was our turn to experience theirs. We had to leave our sight at the gate. As soon as we entered the association’s campus, we put on blindfolds and wore them until we left at the end of the day.

Rene became my eyes, and without him I would have been lost. I had to learn how to navigate from class to the cafeteria or the bathroom without sight. Rene’s world engulfed me. I was humbled, and as I pen these words, I am overcome with renewed awe for the experience.

When our exchange program ended, an assembly was held at the association for family and friends. A presentation was made highlighting the statistics gathered during our little social experiment. They even touched on the higher scholastic performance demonstrated by the participating students. I knew they were referring to me and my suddenly higher test scores. Thank you, Rene.

After the faculty completed their presentation, the stage was handed over to the students. We were tasked with coming up with a talent show act ... all students were expected to spend at least 3 minutes performing. Some danced, others told jokes. I was blessed to have a partner who sang well and played the guitar. My talent was to be Rene’s stage hand. I escorted Rene to center stage, and once he was seated upon the solitary stool, I handed him his guitar and pick and held the microphone so it would pick up his voice and guitar during his performance. I was also going to join in during the chorus, meshing my voice with his. Our song, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Waters.”

Rene softly sang the lyrics, “When you’re weary, feeling small. When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all. I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough. And friends just can’t be found. Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.”

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. My own flood gates of tears prevented me from harmonizing. Rene continued on, solo. When we were done, the house roared with applause and a standing ovation. Rene and I embraced. That was one of my life highlights, a memory that would forever be my bridge over troubled waters.

Richard Hunter lives in Jacksonville.


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