[nfb-talk] NY Times: Feeling my way into blindness

Buddy Brannan buddy at brannan.name
Fri Nov 18 15:22:46 UTC 2016

...To which one is tempted to respond, "YUCK!" 

Buddy Brannan, KB5ELV - Erie, PA
Phone: 814-860-3194 
Mobile: 814-431-0962
Email: buddy at brannan.name

> On Nov 18, 2016, at 10:17 AM, John Heim via nfb-talk <nfb-talk at nfbnet.org> wrote:
> On 11/18/2016 09:13 AM, John Heim wrote:
>> Sheesh! The NYT has been running a series of editorials from disabled
>> people. Some are worse than others. I hate to think of what effect an
>> article like the one below will have.  Maybe we should start encouraging
>> people on this list to send in some more positive articles.
>> -------- Forwarded Message --------
>> Subject: NY Times: Feeling my way into blindness
>> Date: Fri, 18 Nov 2016 00:30:49 -0600
>> Blindness is enveloping. It's beyond belief to step outside and
>> see so little, just a milky haze. Indoors, a smothering dark. It means that
>> you can't shed a mood of loneliness with a brisk walk down the street
>> because you might trip, fall and break something. Nor will you see a
>> passing
>> friend, the sight of whom could be as cheery as an actual conversation.
>> Sights, like sounds, randomly evoke a surge of memories ordinarily
>> inaccessible that lighten and brighten the day. "Who are you?" I may
>> already
>> have asked 10 people who have spoken to me. Their body language as well as
>> their smiles are lost to me. Human nature is striped with ambiguities, and
>> you need to see them, but like a prisoner, I am hooded.
>> I lost my sight once before, to cataracts, a quarter-century ago, but it
>> was restored miraculously
>> by surgery. It then went seriously bad again, until, reaching 80, I
>> needed a
>> cane. Tap, tap. Ambulatory vision is the technical term.
>> Everything becomes impromptu, hour by hour improvised. Pouring coffee so it
>> doesn't spill, feeling for the john so you won't pee on the floor, calling
>> information for a phone number because you can't read the computer, or the
>> book. Eating takes considerable time since you can't see your food. Feeling
>> for the scrambled eggs with your fingers, you fret about whether you appear
>> disgusting. Shopping for necessities requires help. So does traveling on a
>> bus.
>> The kindness of strangers is proverbial - a woman leads me through the
>> bustle of an airport toward the taxi stand, a waitress hands me back a $50
>> bill I mistook for a 20. Blindness is factually a handicap, yet an
>> empathetic one, because other people can so easily imagine themselves
>> suffering from it, sometimes even experiencing a rehearsal for it when
>> stumbling through a darkened house at night. I remember how in school we
>> teased students with Coke-bottle glasses, but didn't laugh at blind folk
>> whose black glasses signified that they couldn't see at all.
>> I know about handicaps harder to cotton to, having stuttered terribly for
>> decades, my face like a gargoyle's, my mouth flabbering uncontrollably.
>> Blindness is old hat. In Africa you still see sightless souls led about by
>> children gripping the other end of a stick. Blindness in its helplessness
>> reassures the rest of us that that oddball is not an eyesore or a loose
>> cannon. Being blind is omission, not commission; and you'd better learn how
>> to fall. Paratrooper or tumbler training would be useful. A tumbler can tip
>> sideways as he lands so his hip and shoulder absorb the blow.
>> The ears need schooling as a locator. I search for the bathroom at night,
>> guided by a ticking clock whose location I recognize. As you go blind,
>> exasperating incongruities arise, but also the convenience of this new
>> excuse for shedding social obligations not desired. And you can give your
>> car away.
>> Hearing snatches of conversation from invisible voices, everything becomes
>> eavesdropping. Have I seen my last movie? Is the vision gone from
>> television? But I can still see daylight and bipedal forms, tree crowns and
>> running water, swirling, seething leaves against the sky-blue heavens,
>> which
>> remind me of 80 years of previous gazing on several continents. Eternal
>> instants on Telegraph Hill, Beacon Hill, or Venice and Kampala.
>> Splendiferous mountain vistas of greensward and cliffs scaffold my dreams,
>> drawn from memories of sheep pastures in Sicily and Greece, rich with
>> textured sedges or tinted canyons, then bombastic skyscrapers, or Matisse's
>> Chapel. So it's flabbergastingly impoverishing to wake up in the morning.
>> Faces are no longer seamed, nor are raindrops stippled on the windowpane,
>> cats high-tailed in a turf war, postage stamps vividly illustrative. I
>> forget my condition and grope for my glasses, wherever they are, as if they
>> could solve the emergency. Blindness is an emergency; the window shades are
>> drawn, and one deals with it in myriad ways.
>> Instinctively I reach out to touch everyone I talk with, heightening the
>> moment of contact. Shoulders I go for, as gender-neutral, companionable
>> territory, but most folks don't want to chat for long with anyone whose
>> deficits are front and center. There's sympathy fatigue, though allowances
>> must be made, an elbow gripped, and perhaps the menu read aloud in a
>> restaurant. Poor guy; be considerate; tell him what the headlines were in
>> the paper today, but if he's not Helen Keller, let the next person take a
>> turn at being nice.
>> Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, the
>> Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.
>> You get somebody to scan your mail for you outside the post office, and
>> supervise paying a bill in the return envelope, maybe even writing the
>> check
>> for you to sign. Improvising keeps one alive, and at the beach you can hear
>> the surf thump if not exult in the spindrift's curl. The tide tugs your
>> feet. At 4:30 in midsummer you hear the birds' morning chorus, nature
>> primeval and ascendant. You dig when you're blind, fingering for roots,
>> then
>> for what the roots are connected to. Curiosity does tip into tediousness,
>> though, when there's no new material.
>> Blindness as a metaphor is not flattering. Blind drunk, a parent blind to
>> the misery of her children, a politician blind to the needs of his
>> constituents. When blind you can neither read text nor frowns, but if
>> somebody starts talking to you and you can't see them, hang loose till you
>> figure it out. Equilibrium is the key.
>> Eyedrops of several descriptions and optical devices accumulate as each is
>> superseded by another. You used different hand lenses for different phases
>> of magnification. Since a book or film is not in the cards, blindly groping
>> for succor in your boredom can be a danger. That comfy stranger on the
>> bench
>> may be Mr. Ponzi. Discipline is required. In all your parts, do you still
>> enjoy being alive? Crossing your legs and twitching an ankle, savoring
>> cherry tomatoes, then sweet corn and lobster.
>> Nights can turn bright if the world mysteriously whitens, as though one's
>> optic nerves were rebelling. It's odd when one part of the body dies but
>> the
>> rest does not. In blindness we don't cast off our eyes, but continue to
>> consult them in thwarted ways, much as amputees feel their lost parts
>> almost
>> function.
>> Feeling a chill wind, I'll look at the sky for a forecast, but triangulate
>> the slanting breezes for the message I can't see. I smell the rain
>> before it
>> comes, and the sun speaks to my skin like a finger stroking. As, in my
>> view,
>> joy in people may be analogous to photosynthesis in plants, this is quite
>> logical. But wet days can be delicious also, a cool drink for dry skin
>> <http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/symptoms/dry-skin/overview.html?inl
>> ine=nyt-classifier> , restful in its implications; good weather has its
>> pressures. Less is expected of a rainy day; you can hole up a bit with
>> yourself.
>> Like Plato's Cave, your brain consists of memories flickering on a wall.
>> The
>> phenomenalities of sight are now memories, but my sixth sense has helped.
>> Call it intuition; and I've never felt despair, any more than when I was a
>> kid who couldn't talk. Blindness resembles a stretched-out stroke.
>> Functions
>> wither as your walking slows. Muscles atrophy and sensibilities, too. You
>> can't size up a new visage, yet the grottoes in your head have more to
>> plumb
>> if your sight was lost midlife or later. You can go caving.
>> Where are my eyes, I suddenly think, as if I'd left behind my coat.
>> Landscapes become impressionistic, eliding details. Abbreviation is at the
>> core. Input is so precious - the conversations other people pause to grant
>> you, beyond the barest niceties, describing piquant scenery you can't see.
>> Strong sunlight is needed for a newsstand headline but muted illumination
>> has subtler uses, and in pitch dark a blind man is at an advantage.
>> The personality of the street, hubbubed with hurry, invites strolling.
>> Slatted fences, orange lilies, SALE signs in a window. "Outta sight!" a guy
>> exclaims. I seek a bench I know about, remembering a whole gallery of
>> friends who have died by now. Older than Mozart, younger than Bach, they
>> engulfed my life with love and commitment, and on a good day permeate my
>> mind. My sexual fantasies invoke an alloy of wives and friends. But
>> anonymity has swallowed me like Jonah's whale; I grope inside.
>> Sunlight beams turn the street radiant for a quarter-hour. Two of my
>> mentors
>> ended their lives by suicide, and I remember their dilemmas
>> sympathetically.
>> One jumped into the sea, the other the Mississippi, but I wonder in each
>> case whether the sun was shining or they'd waited for a rainy day. Our
>> elements return, in any event, to the oceans to re-form as other life.
>> Nature is our mother, if no longer our home. We couch-surf in rented beach
>> houses, with green belts as habitat for other creatures that remain. How
>> many of us have watched a possum "play possum" or a goshawk swoop after a
>> blue jay? We feed pigeons and hummingbirds, then have done with it. Nature
>> has become a suburb. Of course I can't see the cardinal at the feeder out
>> the window, though tidal forces still operate. The leaves natter even if
>> you
>> can't see them. Your ears report their bustle, ceaseless until dormant
>> for a
>> span of moments. The pulse in your throat signals that in your torso all is
>> well; it will beat till it quits. That concordance of organs lives
>> within us
>> like sea creatures throbbing on a coral reef, strung there as on our
>> skeleton as long as conditions allow.
>> Novelty is the spice of life and salts our daily round even when we lose
>> our
>> sight. Your eyes don't steer you as you saunter, yet your lungs, legs, arms
>> feel as fit as ever. For simple exercise, I hoist myself out of each chair,
>> or bicycle in bed, though then unfortunately may pick up two completely
>> different shoes and try to squeeze them on. My socks don't match either.
>> But
>> why am I not crankier? a friend asks. I'm helpless; I can't be cranky.
>> Blindness is enforced passivity. I have become a second-class citizen, an
>> object of concern. Crankiness won't persuade people to treat me
>> thoughtfully. Disabled, that dry term once applied to so many others
>> over my
>> lifetime, now applies to me. As best I can, I'll make my peace with it.
>> Edward Hoagland <http://www.edwardhoagland.com/>  is a nature and travel
>> writer, and the author, most recently, of "In the Country of the Blind
>> <http://arcadepub.com/arcadepub/titles/11766-9781628727210-in-the-country-of
>> -the-blind> ," a novel.
>> Disability is a weekly series of essays, art and opinion by and about
>> people
>> living with disabilities. The entire series can be found here
>> <http://www.nytimes.com/column/disability> .
> -- 
> John Hei	m
> john at johnheim.com
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