The More I Write about Blindness the Less I Write about Blindness

Over the years, I’ve walked almost 2000 miles to and from work.  Most trips are serene, a few stressful.  My first step on every walk is to pause and take stock.  I check the weather and traffic.  I test that Randy’s harness is snug but not too tight. I pat my pockets for keys, iPhone, billfold and dog bags.  Then I measure the most important factor I bring to my journey: my attitude.

My attitude determines whether I view the world as full of compassionate helpers or inconsiderate creeps.  The constant in this equation is who’s out there; the variable is how I view them.  On days I feel at ease with myself, I embrace the stranger.  I walk with grace, like I just got out of church.  But on days I’m immersed in self-pity, I assume all motives are sadistic.  I take every real or imagined slight personally.  I look for a fight and, by God, I find one.  Attitude, action and reaction—the choice is mine whether I wear my blindness like a loose garment or a straightjacket.

On days I am at ease, I possess the humility to be right-sized in this world.  I am a part of, rather than apart from, my fellows.  On days of conflict, I carry the delusion of self-importance.  I’m sure the driver who crowded me in the crosswalk waited all day and traveled a long way just to stick it to me.  I’m certain the kid left his bicycle on the sidewalk so he could watch the blind man trip and fall.  I just know the city worker dug up the sidewalk to confuse my guide dog.  Oh, I get payback being the victim.  Me, me, me becomes even more compelling when the me is wronged.

The riddle goes, “What have you got when you sober up a horse thief?” and the answer is, “A sober horse thief.”  Self-pity, anger and grandiosity make me the horse thief, not blindness.  For sure, blindness doesn’t help—it exacerbates the flaws I bring into play.  I can’t change the blindness but I’m working on changing the flaws.  My goal is progress, not perfection.  So, I keep walking, keep practicing patience, tolerance and self-restraint.  Today, I can greet my wife with, “I had a pretty good walk home from work today, Honey.  I only yelled at one driver.”  And that’s what I call progress!

Posted in Blindness, Coping, independent travel | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

I Say a Little Prayer for Me

Tap, step.  Tap, step.  Tap, stop.  Where am I?  I take a guess and take a left onto Fear Street.  Cars honk, drivers curse, rap music wraps me in a shroud of angry oaths.  Darkness weighs on me, trees lean on me, buildings frown on me.  The sidewalk swells and plunges. Turn left?  Turn right?  Turn back!  I keep walking and start praying.  God in Heaven, I swear I am not lost—I’ve found the screaming hell of going blind.

This was supposed to be fun, this housewarming party.  Celebrate life!  Toast a new start!  Now I hate the host for not offering a ride and I hate myself for not asking.  Tap, step.  Tap, step.  North or south? A swirling wind sweeps away the guiding voice of my GPS.  East or west?  The Unholy Trinity of lawn mower, weed whacker and leaf blower assaults my ears and snaps at my heels.  I hate this mayhem.  I hate this fright.  And I hate that I hate so much tonight.

I should have planned better, made a practice run, installed that Uber app.  Next time, I’ll do better; I’ll be better than this.  But past and future deny my place in this moment and this moment is all that’s real. Tap, step. Tap, step.  Nearer or farther?  Try to breathe deep and relax into the fear.  Try harder, because everything tells me to clench and will it away.   Slow down.  I sense the shift, sense that “Where am I” is less a right or wrong place and more a question of Who and Why am I. And I become aware that I won’t find all the answers tonight, that there may not be answers.  It’s OK to live in the questions and the discomfort.  It’s OK when life is messy.  That’s what life is like sometimes.  And now is one of those times.  Tonight I do not overcome.  Tonight I do not go beyond.  In this struggle, I just go on.

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The Brighter Side of Blindness

Two men walk into a barn.  “Sure stinks in here,” says the first.  “There’s a pony here somewhere,” says the second.  This story is a metaphor for blindness.  Sure, it stinks, but there’s always the possibility of a pony ride.

Here’s my Top Twenty Reasons to Be Cheerful:

  1. When I clean the house, everything looks spotless.
  2. I’m spared videos of other peoples’ kids’ birthday parties and snapshots from Cousin Todd’s awesome vacation.
  3. I never have food spots on my tie.
  4. I can pretend my dog didn’t just do what I think he did.
  5. I can butt in line and get away with it, whether I know it or not.
  6. Every female voice, except those ravaged by Southern Comfort and Marlboros, sounds like it would fit nicely in a size six little black dress.
  7. No American male has a beer belly, “Born to Be Wild” tattoos or a pop-top-pierced nose.
  8. The number written on the inside of all my belts is “32.”
  9. I can say I read Playboy for the fiction and not be called a liar.
  10.  It’s fine not knowing what the Kardashian girls look like.  Knowing what they sound like is bad enough.
  11. I’m not missing a thing when, with the world’s knowledge at my fingertips, I don’t constantly stream puppy videos and pictures of food.
  12. I can tell stories that begin with, ”My career as a major leaguer was tragically cut short by…”  or “My promising future in space travel ended sadly when…”
  13. I can get in plenty of silent meditation while listening to Ken Harrelson call a White Sox game.
  14. I enjoy the mystery of wondering what I just stepped in.
  15. Crab grass and real grass are just green stuff.
  16. Looking bewildered isn’t interpreted as evidence of stupidity.
  17. I can employ the counseling technique of “talking to the empty chair” in social settings.
  18. I don’t have to wait ‘til I’m 80 to get helped crossing the street.
  19. I learn self-control by having my patience tested 89 times a day.
  20. I can just smile at, “If that blind guy can do it, I sure as hell can,” which is really a veiled insult as insidious as being called “a credit to his race.”

Now that you’ve heard mine, what does your gratitude list look like?

Posted in Adapting, Blindness, Coping | Tagged | 4 Comments

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.

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