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

kaye zimpher kaye.j.zimpher at gmail.com
Fri Nov 18 15:30:08 UTC 2016

The writer has a website at the bottom of the article. Maybe other people 
should write to him to let him know how an article such as this can affect 
us. It was horrible to read.
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "John Heim via nfb-talk" <nfb-talk at nfbnet.org>
To: "NFB Talk Mailing List" <nfb-talk at nfbnet.org>
Cc: "John Heim" <john at johnheim.net>
Sent: Friday, November 18, 2016 10:17 AM
Subject: Re: [nfb-talk] Fwd: NY Times: Feeling my way into blindness

> 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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