If We Never Meet Again

Hi Dave,

Happy Birthday to you!  Seventy, you say?  Yikes!  And me turning 65.  Time flies whether you’re having fun or not.  Speaking of time, can you believe it’s been five years since we were at The Seeing Eye together, you with Kenny and me with Randy?  Randy turned seven last month and continues to charge through life unhindered.  It was so sad about Kenny’s cancer.  A dog’s short life made even shorter.  But with Speedy, you sound like you have a great partner.  He must be about four now, right?

Everyone has a dog story and here’s mine for today.  Randy has this habit of veering toward the curb as if he needs to go, then when out of harness, he just stands there and stares at me.  Sometimes he will pull this stunt 4-5 times on a long walk, which gets annoying.  I wonder if he thinks I have to go.  That’s very considerate of him, but on hot days, I really just want to go home, have a glass of iced tea and take my prostate medicine.

It’s always great to swap emails with you, Dave.  I just had the thought that people who become friends during a shared month at The Seeing Eye really do not look forward to a reunion at that north Jersey location because it would mean that each has lost a beloved dog, either to death or retirement.  And, while I know that dogs don’t live forever, the prospect of Randy going down saddens me.  So, let’s keep up our correspondence because, in one sense, the farther we stay apart, the better off we are.  Does that make sense?

Hope you celebrate your birthday safely.  Keep your multitude of birthday candles from starting another California wildfire and I’ll avoid the second Great Chicago Fire with mine.  Deal?

Best,

Jeff

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Can You Hear Me Now?

My mother is 93 years old.  I’d say she wears it well, to which she adds, “Considering the alternative.” Last Monday, she got hearing aids.  I called her throughout the big day.  She finally answered the phone around bedtime.

“Good thing you caught me between songs,” she said.  “I’m listening to Barbra Streisand.  Now I know why you like headphones so much.”

“So the hearing aids are pretty cool, eh?”

“Cooler than cool,” she said.  I feel I’m reconnecting with the world.”

“Speaking of connecting,” I said, “Helen Keller said that seeing connects you with things but hearing connects you with people.”

“She ought to know,” said my mom.  “I was missing so much.  You wouldn’t believe the talk among the ladies at dinner tonight.  What does LGBT mean?  I wish there was a way for you to get some eyesight back.”

“Me too.  I could stand a little more connection with things,” I said.  “But I’m grateful for my hearing.  I don’t think I could handle deafness.”

“That’s what you said about your eyesight,” said my mom.  “But you’ve done so much.  Heck, Helen Keller couldn’t handle life until she learned how to connect with people and her environment.  Remember The Miracle Worker?”

“Vividly,” I said.  “I guess we all have a limit to what we think we can tolerate.  If we just focus on loss, that is.  Still, I can’t imagine losing the pleasure of audio books, music and familiar voices.  To say nothing of survival sounds like traffic.”

“The unknown can be pretty scary,” said my mom.

“Got anything else planned for your big day?”

“Absolutely,” said my mom.  “And I have to go now.  Julie Andrews is waiting.  The hills are alive with the sound of music.”

“Keep the headphones on, mom.  You don’t want to wake the neighbors.”

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What You Can’t See Won’t Hurt You

“Wow!” says my wife.  “Cousin Bonnie’s really gotten into piercings.  And Ricky Junior is sporting a few fresh tats.  He’s got an angel on his shoulder.”

“The angel’s there to keep the monkey off his back,” I say.  “He’s a wild one.  Wish he’d turn off his Harley.”

We’re at the annual family picnic and my wife is describing the gene pool I can’t see.

“What color is Brittany’s hair this year?”

“Chicago Bears orange.  It clashes with her Packers jersey.  She’ll need to change one or the other before football season.  Here comes Cousin Eddie showing his vacation videos.  You’ll be spared that torture.  And Aunt Caroline’s snapshots of the grandkids.”

“I doubt Caroline will ask me to babysit anymore.  I’ll miss those great games of Hide and Seek.”

“You never did find Little Nellie last year,” says my wife.  “I think she hid in that tree all night.”

“But I whacked that piñata before any of those kids got to it,” I say, relishing the memory.

“Honey,” says my wife, “I think today you’re better off not seeing what’s out there.”

“The mere sound of it frightens me.”

“And the amount of flesh on display terrifies me,” says my wife.  “When was the dress code abolished?  What happened to self-respect?  Do I sound old?”

“Well, the radio said the average American woman weighs 165 pounds.  And it was rare to find a guy without a pot belly even when I could see.  So I ask you—how do we stack up compared to what’s on display here today?”

“Shall I be honest or make up something?”

“Make it believable,” I say.  “Age-appropriate is a good image.  But flatter me a little.  Not so I’m better than anyone, just OK.”

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Sad

I’m sad.  Don’t try to cheer me up — it won’t work.  The sadness will run its course and then I won’t be sad anymore.  It has to run its course because that’s how sadness works.

Why I’m sad doesn’t really matter.  Most likely, it has something to do with blindness, with grieving a loss.  It’s not self-pity and it’s not depression — as a social worker, I’ve studied the difference; as a human, I’ve felt the difference.

Enlightened Renaissance thinkers called sadness melancholia.  They regarded it as a necessary part of life.  They honored it in song and word.  The Book of Ecclesiastes talks of a season for everything — joy and sorrow, birth and death.

We moderns misunderstand sadness. We treat it as an aberration —“Don’t be sad.”  We fear it is contagious — “Don’t bring me down.”  We self-medicate — “Just a pinch to ease the pain.”  We try to cheer ourselves up — “Oh, “Look on the bright side.”  We deny it — “It’s not as bad as all that.”

I write about coping with blindness.  I try to be honest.  I honestly think that blindness can be enriching and it can be a pain in the ass. I write about being told I’m an inspiration when I don’t feel inspired; about needing to educate when I don’t feel like teaching.  As I write this blog, I feel sad, so that’s what I’m writing about.  When I wrote my last blog, I didn’t feel sad; next time, I’ll likely feel different than I feel today.

This weekend, a new movie called Inside Out grossed $91 million at the box office.  It’s an animated film about sadness.  It’s main character is an eleven year-old girl who is sad because her family moved across the country.  The lesson is that sadness is natural and necessary and needs to run its course before integration and growth can resume.  I figure that, if a movie can make $91 million, I’d throw in my two cents’ worth.

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Argentine Tango Dancer

The last leg of my trip is on the #92 CTA bus.  Across the aisle sits a young lady who converses in a clear, friendly, sober voice.  She flew in from Brooklyn to spend the holiday with her family.  We talk about my Seeing Eye dog and her cats and my cats.  We talk of the vibrancy of city life, about what is similar and different between New York and Chicago.

We talk about places we have been.  I tell her I’ve been away for a week and that I’m eager to be home with my wife to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary.  She tells me that last winter, she took a vacation to Buenos Aires and met an itinerant Argentine tango dancer.

I’m about to say, “How romantic!” but I’m unsure what she means by the word, “met.”  So, I say, “When I was young, I met a Milanese girl on the Italian Riviera and I remember her to this day.”  And she says she knows exactly what I mean, and from the lilt of her voice, I know she loved her Argentine tango dancer.  But she lives in Brooklyn and he lives like a gypsy in Argentina.  And I live in Chicago and the Milanese girl lives God knows where, it’s been thirty years.

“You meet the most interesting people when you travel,” she says.

And I say, I’ve never been to Buenos Aires but I’ll bet it’s beautiful,”

She sighs but doesn’t say a word.  And the bus rolls on and people whom I see as shadows get on and off the bus and pretty soon will be my stop.  And I just know the young lady would not have got off the bus without saying good-bye to me and my dog.  And then I hear a little sniffle and I know she’s still here and she’s far away, sitting quietly, remembering her Argentine tango dancer.

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Talking to Myself

Simple lessons last longest.  This one I learned from a childhood storybook.  The Little Engine That Could pulls the train up the steep mountain, all the while repeating, “I think I can.”  The lesson is that telling myself I am capable and making an honest effort are the best I can bring to a challenge.

What the Little Engine told itself is, in modern parlance, “self-talk.”  Self-talk is what I tell myself about myself.  The raw material for self-talk is my experience interacting with the environment.  Where self-talk veers toward the danger zone is when, “I made a mistake” becomes “I am an idiot.”  I constantly make assumptions and draw conclusions about myself.  And the tendency is that negative self-talk is my default, whereas positive self-talk requires the extra effort to name it, own it and change it.

It’s a long time since I met the Little Engine.  I am not a kid anymore and blindness has taught me this:  I cannot do what I used to, and to deny that is folly.  Sometimes, I feel this whole blindness thing isn’t going particularly well.  But the less I tell myself that I am a mess, the less I feel so.  And the more I continue to think myself   capable, the more capable I may become.  When I tell myself that I can adjust to continuing vision loss because I have successfully adjusted to losses in the past, it takes me out of the helpless victim mode.

In the stories I tell myself about who I am, small edits can lead to lasting change and significantly impact outcomes in life. This is the premise of University of Virginia psychology professor Timothy D. Wilson’s book, Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By.  I’m on the trail of Redirect as an audio book. I’ll let you know when I find it.  Who knows, it may turn out to be this year’s version of The Little Engine That Could.

Posted in Moving beyond vision loss | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lemonade

The hottest ice in town is under the skates of the Chicago Blackhawks.  And the hottest ticket on ice is for the Hawks’ Stanley Cup series against Anaheim. So, when I bump into Billy, he greets me with, “Long time no see.  I’m going to the Hawks’ game tonight!”

Had he said, “I’m eloping with Jennifer Lopez tonight,” he couldn’t sound more excited.  ”That’s great,” I say.

“More than great, it’s awesome!” says Billy.  “I got the ticket from my dad.”

“That’s awesome, too,” I say.

“Not really,” says Billy.  “He died last week.”

Billy’s version of “turning lemons into lemonade” inspires me to look for new ways to adapt to blindness.  Since my recent slip in eyesight, I’ve been feeling sorry for myself.   This self-pity breeds inertia when what I need is action.  Rather than my customary approach of trying to think my way into action, I’ll try to act my way into right thinking.

I’m getting busy — not just busy using manic activity as avoidance (I’ve already cleaned the house three times), but goal-directed busy.  By having my cataracts inspected, I make informed decisions. By brushing up on orientation and mobility skills, I am safer.  By investing time and effort, I master new ways to do old things.  By learning technology, I find a world at my fingertips.  By listening, I connect.  By talking and writing about this overwhelming life change, I’m more positive.  By learning about grief and loss, I’m coping better.

The key is self-knowledge.  When I know what I bring into transactions, including diminishing eyesight, I better understand the outcome. Knowing I tend toward perfectionism, I understand my frustration.  Knowing I like things done right and done right now, I understand my impatience.  Now, imagine if I bring into these interactions that I am adaptable, that I have adapted to many drops in eyesight.  The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior and, if I’ve done it before, I can do it again.

Posted in Adapting, Blindness, Moving beyond vision loss, problem solving | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments