Cerebral akinetopsia is a syndrome in which a patient loses specifically the ability to perceive visual motion - S. Zeki
To live in a frozen world would be a somewhat incomprehensible experience for most. Not in the sense of it being devoid of warmth, although in a way, Jacob’s life was certainly lacking geniality, but rather, frozen in time. From Jacob’s perspective, anything that moved would jump from one stationary location to another, as though he were missing several frames from his life’s film reel, and he’d grown tired of viewing the world through broken eyes.
He sat on the old park bench, as he did almost every morning, staring out at the motionless park, the frozen pond and it's frozen inhabitants. There was a deep rage within him which thrived on self pity. The view constantly shifted and changed as if he were observing an enormous slideshow of images, but the scenery was always devoid of motion. Ripples on the water’s surface formed patterns that changed with each new image, but the images were always still, and Jacob resented it.
A family of ducks gradually shifted into view and entered the pond before beginning their journey across the surface of the water, frame by frame. At the edge of the pond, a small duckling chirped desperately as it paced the border of the water, refusing to enter. Yet the other ducks paid no notice. It seemed to be a lot smaller than the other ducklings, and its feathers were tattered and worn. It was peculiar how the duckling neglected it's own happiness and sense of security out of fear of the water. It clearly wasn't happy where it was, but it was unwilling to take the jump. Jacob leant in further and squinted his eyes as he observed each image of the duckling, curiously watching to see what it would do. Suddenly, a voice from beside him echoed in his ear.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Jacob jumped in fright and turned rather abruptly to glare at the intruder. It was an old woman who had rather quietly plonked herself down on the other end of the park bench. Enormous, tinted glasses covered almost half of her face, which was bordered by long, wavy grey hair, intertwined with colourful beads. She clutched an old cane in one hand, and in the other, a hideously bright purple flask.
“The Park? No, not really,” Jacob replied bluntly, relaxing as he sat back in the bench defensively, “My life feels like I’m running a videogame with half a gig of RAM. It kind of ruins the view.”
The old woman chuckled as she stared ahead at the motionless pond.
“You’re too young to feel that way. At my age, you may as well throw me out and replace me with a newer model. I’m sure you’ve still got a few more years left under warranty though.”
A smile spread across her old and wrinkled lips as she took a sip from the purple flask, but Jacob remained unmoved.
“Funny,” he said coldly, rolling his eyes.
The old woman frowned and turned towards Jacob as she lowered her flask, “Oh so you’re not a man of humour? I see,” she teased, “And who exactly is responsible for that? Should I have a word with them?”
Conversations with people were strange for Jacob. He could hear perfectly fine, but it was his vision that deceived him. It was difficult to watch people speak because all he ever saw were flashes with still images of people opening their mouths. When combined with the smooth sound of them talking, the experience was rather disorientating. Jacob looked away from the old woman, hoping she would just get up and leave, but after a moment of waiting in silence, he realised she wasn’t going to budge.
“I see…” the woman said, as she turned back to face the pond, “And do you think you can forgive yourself?”
“Doubt it. It can’t be fixed.”
“Sure it can. Anything can be fixed, although perhaps not in the way most of us think.”
Jacob shook his head and sucked his teeth. The old woman was annoyingly optimistic. He paused for a moment as he tried to convince himself to just be rude in order to discourage any additional conversation, but gave in when he realised he just couldn’t do it. As unwelcome as she was, the woman’s presence was rather comforting, although Jacob refused to admit it.
“I had an accident about three years ago. When I woke up, my vision was… broken. I can’t see motion anymore – only images. It can’t be fixed.”
They both paused and stared thoughtfully out towards the pond for a moment in silence. The lonely duckling was still pacing up and down at the edge of the water, frame by frame. It chirped loudly at its mother which hovered on the water’s surface not too far in front, surrounded by the other chicks. She wasn't coming to save him.
“Well, I suppose it certainly could have been worse,” the woman said as she abruptly reverted back to the conversation.
Jacob was silent for a moment as he collected his thoughts. He could tell she was trying to dull his self pity and it was becoming irritating, “Do you know how hard it is to cross the street when you can’t tell how fast the cars are going?” Jacob said, annoyed at the woman’s apparent naivety.
“Well, yes, but I think there is a profound level of appreciation one must learn to have for the things they already, and still do, possess. At least you can walk, right?”
“You really just don't get it. You don't understand what it's like."
"I understand quite well actually."
"Oh yeah? How could you?" Jacob said, raising his voice slightly in frustration. The woman’s persistence was becoming unbearable.
"Because, young man, I'm blind. I wouldn't be able to see the cars at all."
Jacob stiffened up and turned towards the old woman, trying to figure out if it was another coy joke. Her gaze was still fixated firmly on the old pond in front of them, and her expression was entirely blank. She wasn’t joking.
“Oh, I’m… Sorry,” Jacob said softly, unsure of what else to say.
"Don’t be, it’s not really much of a nuisance. I still venture through this park most days and listen to the water gently ripple, or to the ducks as they enter the pond. I can smell the sweet cherry blossom trees as they burst into bloom in the spring as well,” she paused for a moment as she inhaled the air, and then continued, “I can feel the warmth of the breeze as it sways the tree branches too, and I can even taste this, rather bitter, chamomile tea that I brew at home,” she smacked her tongue in her mouth and proceeded to take another sip from the flask. “My point is, we have five senses, and one of them is a little messed up, why should we let that ruin everything else?”
Jacob was determined not to fall victim to her optimism, but he could feel it gently nagging at him, “Most people have all five,” he said bluntly, a smug smile pulling at his lips.
“I suppose. Most people don’t use them all though. My Grandkids are entirely deaf when it comes to the word ‘no’,” she chuckled, “Look, you have a lot left to experience and appreciate in your life. I get it, it feels like you’ve lost everything when you lose something you’ve always had. But I suppose it puts things into perspective, doesn’t it? It really sheds light on all the things you take for granted.”
Jacob sighed. The old woman was right, but his bitterness was stubborn. It clung to him like a parasite, like an addiction, causing him to feel nauseous at even the thought of feeling anything else.
“I guess. I just feel like I’m living life in flip-book form, rather than getting the full cinematic experience like everyone else.”
"Mmm, you’re different, but why not go live that beautiful flip-book life you have anyway? Write your story, one chapter at a time. Hell, write it one word, or even one letter at a time if you have to. Just make sure you appreciate every chapter, don’t take any of them for granted. Every story has a beginning and an ending, but I think most people forget that the best stories have an abundance of ups and downs in between. Maybe it’s time for you to get out of your down, eh?”
The old woman patted the seat next to her triumphantly, and with that, she stood up from the park bench and began to walk off down the winding stone footpath, frame by frame, until she disappeared beyond the hedges at the edge of the park.
Jacob turned back to the pond just in time to observe images of the lonely duckling lunging into the water and paddling over to the rest of the ducks. It was going to be ok, frame by frame, it pushed on across the surface of the frozen pond in pursuit of its own happiness.
Zeki S. Cerebral akinetopsia (visual motion blindness). A review. Brain. 1991 Apr;114 ( Pt 2):811-24. doi: 10.1093/brain/114.2.811. PMID: 2043951