This Man Thinks He’s the Luckiest in the World—Even Though He Went Blind in College
As a man goes blind, his friend watches his back.
One day during his freshman year at Columbia University, Sanford “Sandy” Greenberg, class of 1962, stood on campus by a grassy plot with his classmate Arthur Garfunkel. “Sanford, look at that patch of grass. You see the colors? The shapes? The way the blades bend?” Garfunkel asked.
Greenberg was smitten. Other guys talked about girls and sports, but Garfunkel wanted to talk about … a patch of grass!
Was there a luckier guy on campus than Greenberg? Here he was, a poor kid from Buffalo, New York, on full scholarship, taking classes from superstars such as anthropologist Margaret Mead, physicist Leon Lederman, historian James Shenton, and poet Mark Van Doren. And he had a great new pal, a brainy kid from New York City with a pure tenor voice.
But in the summer of 1960, just before junior year, Greenberg’s fortune changed. He was in Buffalo, playing baseball, when his vision “steamed up.” He had to lie down on the grass until the clouds went away. The doctor said it was allergic conjunctivitis.
Back at school that fall, Greenberg had more episodes, but he didn’t tell anyone. He didn’t believe it was anything serious. Still, his roommates—Garfunkel and Jerry Speyer—saw that he was having trouble.
On the first morning of finals, Garfunkel escorted Greenberg to University Gym, where exams were held. Greenberg started writing at 9 a.m. By 10:30, he couldn’t see a thing. He lurched to the front of the gym and handed his blue book to the proctor.
“I can’t see, sir,” he said.
The proctor laughed. “I’ve heard some terrific excuses,” he said, “but that’s the best.”
Greenberg went back to Buffalo, where he received another diagnosis: glaucoma. That winter, doctors operated on Greenberg’s eyes. The surgery didn’t work. Greenberg was going blind. He was so depressed that he refused to see anyone from college.
But Garfunkel went up to Buffalo anyway.
“I don’t want to talk,” Greenberg said.
“Sanford,” said Garfunkel. “You must talk.”
Garfunkel persuaded Greenberg to go back to Columbia and offered to be his reader.
In September 1961, Greenberg returned to campus. Garfunkel, Speyer, and a third friend read textbooks to him, taking time out from their own studies, and Greenberg ended up scoring straight A’s. Still, he was tentative about getting around alone and relied on his friends to help him. Here are 6 facts that prove friends are healthy for us.
Then, one afternoon, Greenberg and Garfunkel went to Midtown Manhattan. When it was time for Greenberg to go back to campus, Garfunkel said he had an appointment and couldn’t accompany him. Greenberg panicked. They argued, and Garfunkel walked off, leaving Greenberg alone in Grand Central Terminal. Greenberg, bewildered, stumbled through the rush-hour crowd. He took a shuttle train west to Times Square, then transferred to an uptown train. Four miles later, he got off at the Columbia University stop. At the university’s gates, someone bumped into him.
“Oops, excuse me, sir.”
Greenberg knew the voice. It was Garfunkel’s. Greenberg’s first reaction was rage, but in the next second, he realized what he had just accomplished—and realized, too, who had made it possible.
“It was one of the most brilliant strategies,” Greenberg says. “Arthur, of course, had been with me the whole way.”
After graduation, Greenberg got his MBA from Columbia and a PhD from Harvard. He married his girlfriend, Sue; was a White House fellow in the Johnson administration; and went on to become a successful inventor and businessman.
Garfunkel went on to become Art Garfunkel.
Recently, Greenberg recalled Garfunkel reading him Our Town, which, he says, was their “manual for living.” The play’s message is that humans, caught up in daily concerns, fail to appreciate life’s beauty and preciousness. “That’s all human beings are!” says the character Emily Webb Gibbs, a dead woman looking down upon the living and astonished by their folly. “Just blind people!”
Not Greenberg. He sees everything, sings every blessing, great and small: from the love of his family and friends to the dew-dappled grooves of a blade of grass.
“You are talking,” he says today, “to the luckiest man in the world.”
Next, find out the 24 things you can do to be a true friend.