When I define who I am, blindness is pretty far down the list. First come husband, son, brother, writer, reader, music lover and social worker. In these roles, I try to be loving and kind, thoughtful and thorough, patient and tolerant.
But among significant life events, losing my eyesight has had the most profound impact. I lost, then, after retraining, regained my career. I haven’t driven a car in twenty-five years. I live in a large city and depend on public transit. I am less adventuresome, preferring familiar environs. I feel the loss of visual things which used to give me pleasure, like taking photos and watching ball games.
At times, blindness becomes my most obvious and dramatic characteristic. If I try without success to find someone to read me a handwritten letter or I begin to cross Ashland Avenue against the light, blindness becomes vexing or downright dangerous. I can proceed no further nor reach safety until I find a workaround. But even as blindness inserts obstacles, I identify and internalize how blindness has enhanced my patience, ingenuity and problem-solving.
My wife has had two episodes with cancer. Yet I do not think of her primarily as a cancer victim or a cancer survivor as defined by a pink T-shirt manifesto. Cancer is part of her just as curly hair and a soothing voice. Blindness is part of me just as male-pattern baldness and a singing voice tending toward flats. Cancer and blindness are but two brush strokes in our portrait; they are not our portrait. They are one frame of reference through which we think, feel and make decisions. Where a stranger says, “Funny, you don’t look blind,” a friend says, “I don’t think of you as blind.” The closer we come, the more we see, in ourselves and in one another.