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

John Heim john at johnheim.net
Fri Nov 18 15:35:14 UTC 2016

No good can come out of hassling an 80 year old blind guy. The correct 
response is to send the NYT some positive articles.

On 11/18/2016 09:30 AM, kaye zimpher via nfb-talk wrote:
> 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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John Heim
john at johnheim.com

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