A Deeper Vision

I am grateful I was able to see the world before my eyesight disappeared.  By age thirty-five, I had traveled most of our fifty states and Canada’s ten provinces.  My passport held stamps from half a dozen European destinations.  I viewed the green, green hills of Kerry and the snowy summits of the Rockies.  I strolled the Champs Elysee and the San Francisco Embarcadero.  I photographed landmarks and locals.  I looked, listened and learned.

Blindness has put an end to that wide world.  While I have recovered from the implied terror of strange places, I prefer to travel familiar paths.  I find that removing the sight from sightseeing leaves little.  Oh, the smells of a French bakery, the sound of bagpipes and the feel of Irish linen remain compelling.  But it just ain’t the same.

I used to pride myself on my independent, adventuresome spirit.  Now it’s an adventure just taking the bus downtown.  My generation has attained retirement, complete with Smoky Mountain bus tours and Caribbean cruises.  Yet my bag remains unpacked, passport unused.

I’m pretty much OK with this change of life.  But I’ve had this nagging worry that I’m keeping my wife from enjoying new vistas.  I mean, she hasn’t confessed the compulsion to travel around the world in eighty days, but she may carry an exotic bucket list.  At my mention of this, she says that, from her perspective, it’s time to ”go deeper rather than wider.”  She’s going deeper by studying for a Masters Degree in a field that fascinates her.  Her words made me feel better, not only from the self-centered fear that I have become burdensome, but at my realization that I too am going deeper.   Deeper into the adventure of writing, reading and, well, being.

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How to Look Forever Young

My wife and I were high school sweethearts—for half of sophomore year, that is.  We attended colleges 427 miles apart.  She returned home for high school reunions, I didn’t.  We neither saw nor spoke for thirty-two years.  During our decades apart, she had her first bout with breast cancer; I lost the ability to see faces.  When we reconnected, we shared lots of stories and, in the telling, she sounded the same as I remembered.  Then and now, when I hear her voice, I see the face of a sixteen year-old girl.

My last trip to the picture show when I could see the picture was The Untouchables.  That was around 1989, when the blind spots in my visual field meant I had to look from one face to another to follow the conversation.  I saw that Sean Connery was balding.  I had noticed that I too was balding.  I saw how virile a balding Sean Connery was.  I thought the same applied to me.  But my algebraic truth that if a=b and b=c, then a=c sadly didn’t apply when a = Sean Connery and c = me.  At least, that’s what my friends told me, and, bless them, they broke the news in a Disney way.

At our wedding seven years ago, the friend who introduced us read from my wife’s sophomore yearbook “Hey,” I had written, “it was fun being your boyfriend for four and a half months (132 days).  Maybe we should try it again sometime—like in 25 or 30 years.”  Everybody oohed and aahed.  I smiled serenely, like a prophet.  I scanned every face, every dear face that had not changed in forty years.  And I saw and heard kindness and caring, joy and love.  And I became aware of what beauty truly means and where it dwells.  And then I kissed my beautiful bride.

Posted in Moving beyond vision loss, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

A Lesson in Empathy

 “I used to pride myself on my independence, now I am afraid

to go on walks in the evening, to attend social events…

where I should be comfortable.  It is embarrassing

how feeble I feel, how timidly I move through life,

always guarded, ready to defend myself, ready to be angry.”

~~~~~

I am blind—a blind social worker working with people who are blind.  I read the above passage assuming a perspective of shared vulnerability, for I hear these words, or words like these, from people struggling with vision loss.  I empathize, not only as a social worker, but as one who lost connection and forfeited the belief that I was entitled to a full life. Blindness is trauma and its expression of anxious apartness is as universal as sight is individual.  But the above passage was spoken, not by a young blind woman, but by a college-aged victim of date rape.

I hear her and know I can draw parallels with blindness but I prefer to relate through our mutual loss of the inherent right to a future without fear of living through a lens that sees us as deficient. I am her when she says she’s afraid, angry, embarrassed, guarded.  And knowing the source of her trauma, my initial response joins with her outrage.   I am ashamed of my perpetrator gender.  I condemn the judicial system which endorses a double standard that blames victims and compounds their trauma by insinuating that they were “asking for it.”  I decry the moral judgment of retribution, wherein the victim becomes the accused, a concept that rivals the idiocy of the archaic belief that blindness is punishment for sin.  I shudder for this fragile stranger as friends guess at how to behave and what to make of this “poor girl,” this brave victim of a sexual predator.

The truth is, trauma is a universal experience. It arrives with a gentle tug on your sleeve or between the lines of a diagnosis.  Yet how often we lose our ability to speak of it, to deal with it openly.  “I didn’t want to be known as the girl who was raped,” says Claire Underwood in House of Cards, reinforcing the tragic tendency toward secrecy, suppression and shame.  There are days I wish blindness could be hidden, where I might get a breather from dealing with the glaring, visible  vulnerability.  I have to go on faith that, because physical injury, emotional trauma and social stigma are universally shared,  experiencing these multiple effects of trauma brings unity, empathy and understanding to the common struggle.  This thought gives me courage.

 

[The quotation leading this story was taken from an article in the Chicago Tribune, 6/9/2016, “What my sons will learn from Turner’s Stanford rape case” by Rex W. Huppke]

[Claire Underwood’s quote comes from House of Cards, season 2, episode 4 (Cumulative Episode 17)]

 

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I Am a Male Hausfrau

Today is laundry day. What’s this thing?  It feels like wool underwear.  Who’d want to wear scratchy underwear? Hmm, no leg holes, so how do you put them on?  And what’s with this tassel?  Aha, this isn’t wool underwear—it’s my stocking cap!

Tomorrow is cleaning day.  My vacuum is the “Animal Hair Turbo” model.  It could suck up a cat.  When I finish cleaning, in my mind all is bright and shiny.  But I know I miss things, and that somewhere, in plain sight for someone sighted, lies whatever the cat brought up.

My wife and I divide domestic duties: she shops for groceries, I clean house and do the laundry.  She is the hunter; I am the gatherer.  Gender roles be damned—the arrangement works for us.

I take my job seriously.  I clean and change my lint filters more often than some people change their socks.  When the rinse water goes down the drain before the spin cycle ends, that makes my day. If I tally an even number of socks in the dryer, I am affirmed; if I end up with an odd number, I question my methodology.

I’ve developed tricks for my trade.  Not seeing the clothes, I sort by texture and shape.  Not seeing my wife, I sense her size when I fold her clothes or when I hold her in my arms.  My color identifier distinguishes five shades of gray and confirms the efficacy of bleach when “very light gray” T shirts come out “white.”  My tactics level the playing field somewhat, but, sighted or blind, it’s pretty much impossible to fold a fitted sheet.

Being useful around the house does not bring drudgery.  I whistle while I work.  I enjoy music and books.  If I clean house in two hours listening to Pink Floyd, I can clean it in 45 minutes listening to the Pointer Sisters.  That gives me time to savor a leisurely lunch of delicacies my wife has found.  Avocados in winter?  Cherries in January?  She brings home the best stuff.  And if I spill, well, I clean it up or wash it out.  I call her Tarzan the hunter; she calls me her hausfrau.  It takes two in our little village.

Posted in Adapting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

A. Burr under My Saddle

I have a wonderful wife.  For Christmas, she treated me to the hottest ticket in Chicago—Hamilton.  As we settled into our seats, a perky theatre rep said, “Sir, would you like to use the audio description headphones for today’s performance?  I’ll demonstrate how the system works.  This part is like a transistor radio, but you look much too young to remember transistor radios.”  I mumbled humble thanks to this innocent while my wife won a Tony for eye rolling.

“Miss,” floated the voice of the woman seated on my opposite side, “What shall I do if the noise from the headphones bothers me?  This has happened before and it’s very annoying.”

A pall descended on our party.  While I brainstormed an equitable solution, the theatre rep gamely offered, “Well, uh, if that happens, uh, just tell the usher and, well, we’ll do, uh, something.”  That ‘something,’ I surmised, would be improvised.  Meanwhile, I whispered to my wife, “I could always hold my hands over her ears.”  But I had whispered the wrong thing too loudly and the theatre rep gasped, “Oh, my God” and I then whispered that I was only kidding, that I had never, and would never, do such a thing.  The theatre rep expressed dubious belief then excused herself, doubtless to warn Security to “Keep an eye on that guy in Row P, Seat 4.”

I had heard of this theatrical phenomenon: the audio descriptive headphones inadvertently disrupting neighboring patrons because of the bleed out of sound.  As the orchestra tuned, I pondered a few ethical questions.  What if meeting the needs of one patron compromises the experience of others?  Who, if anyone, takes precedence?  Should the user lower the volume to compensate?  Should their neighbors be more tolerant? Then I heard the opening bars and ethical dilemmas gave way to the joy of sound and music.

In the end, I chose not to wear the headphones.  I preferred the sound of voices in space, the sense of place.  Plus, the headphones clamped my noggin like a nutcracker.  Besides, I had prepared: I had listened to the Ron Chernow biography of Hamilton—all 38 hours and 22 minutes of it.  My wife and I had virtually memorized the Broadway Cast recording. So, without prompting, I knew who was talking to whom about what.  And, at intermission, my wife described what I couldn’t learn from my homework—the costumes, the choreography, the look.

But I learned nothing of the woman on my opposite side. I did not speak to her nor she to me.  I resented her for making my blindness an issue and I defaulted to expressing displeasure through silence.  I regret we did not connect, that she remained a shadow and I an object.  We might have better understood one another. Had we engaged, I would have provided my back story with only a hint of self-pity to attest to my imperfect humanness. I would have said, “The book gave me the context of it.  The recording gave me the emotion of it.  I am thrilled to witness it. Now, I just wish I could see it.”

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Jimmy Kimmel’s Only Interview with Randy the Dog

Jimmy Kimmel:  [Applause and theme music fade]  Our next guest comes to us from the pages of the Jalapenos in the Oatmeal blog.  Ladies and gentlemen, please greet the star of that hit series, Randy the Dog!  [wild applause and “Who Let the Dogs Out” theme music]  Welcome, Randy, you’re sure looking sharp tonight.

Randy the Dog:  You’re so kind, Jimmy. Basic black is a classic look, don’t you think?  And fur works well this time of year.

JK:  And having your own keeps you on the right side of the fur controversy.

RD:  Right you are, Jimmy.  So many people complimented me on Fifth Avenue and the looks I got on the subway ride over here were so sweet.

JK:  Speaking of subways, Randy, don’t the crowds get to you?  I mean, you’re down there and the rest is standing room only.

RD:  I just sit still and take it all in, Jimmy.  It’s a great sniffing opportunity.  One nice lady even said to me, My goodness,” she said,  “You know more about me than my husband does.”  [chuckles]  That got a good laugh.  Then when I told her my name, she said, “Well, you sure are randy, Randy.”  And that got another laugh.

JK:  Making friends everywhere you go, right, Randy?  But I know travel can get tiresome.  Don’t you get bored on long trips?

RD:  Not at all, Jimmy.  I’m not like people with their gizmos and gadgets and attention deficits.  I don’t need Rin Tin Tin reruns on the back seat DVD player.  No, I look out the window.  I look at clouds that look like clouds.  Then I take a nap and dream of food.

JK:  Speaking of food, Randy…

RD:  Yes, Jimmy?

JK:  …well, I’d just think you’d get tired of the same thing all the time.

RD:  Like I should paddle across a frozen lake to fetch a dead duck?  [laughs]  No way.  I like my three cups of dry chow served in my bowl with a water back.  That suits me fine.  No, it’s people who think I need variety, like the lady who slipped me a slice of bacon and ended up having to replace her carpeting.  Never seen such a mess in my life.

JK:  So, no BLT’s for you , eh?  [chuckles]  But, Randy, what’s life like for you, the famous Seeing Eye dog?

RD:  It’s a good gig, Jimmy.  Gets me into a lot of places—restaurants and hotels with room service.  Say, Jimmy, what’s on that plate next to your coffee cup?  You gonna eat that?  You gonna eat that?  I could eat that.  The biscuits in the Green Room were mighty tasty, but I could really eat what’s on that plate next to your coffee cup.

JK:  I was just saying, Randy, that, with you being such a star, I kinda feel like chopped liver.

RD:  Hmm… [leans toward Jimmy]

JK:  [leaning back]  Randy, why are you looking at me like that?  [fade to black]

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The Bus Is Coming! The Bus Is Coming!

With the arrival of each season—baseball, football, hockey and Christmas—I mosey over to my neighborhood barber shop for a haircut.  It’s a short walk and, with Randy the dog guiding the way, my mind is free to wander like a free range chicken.  But I tune in the traffic pattern as we near the corner of Ashland and Foster.  As I calculate the red light/green light sequence, I feel a tug on my sleeve.

“You get on the bus here,” says the little old lady, pulling me like a truant child toward what must be the bus stop.

“Not today, ma’am,” I reply.  “Today I’m just crossing the street to the barber shop.”

“No, this is where you get on the bus,” she says, raspy and urgent.

“No I don’t,” I say.  “You get on the bus.  I cross the street.”  I fake left and run right.  But she grabs my sleeve again and swings me around.

“I know you want to be helpful and I appreciate that,” I say.  “But I’m really not interested in getting on the bus.  I’m interested in crossing Foster.”  I take one step and then realize that, in the sleeve-tugging and swinging around, I’ve lost my bearings.  She senses my confusion and leads me toward the bus stop again, all the while shouting,   “The bus is coming!  The bus is coming!”

I hear the bus stop and the door open—whoosh! —and the old lady yelling, ”That man needs help!”  to the bus driver, who now stands next to me asking, “You need help?”

“Yes, get me away from her for starters,” I tell him.  ”then point me due south so I can cross Foster.”  He does this without question or comment.

Thus, having regained my sense of place in the universe, I progress toward my goal, wondering where I’d be if not for the kindness of strangers.

Posted in Blindness, independent travel, Safety, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 5 Comments