Sometimes we–the vision-impaired–have to let go.
In trying to open a window of understanding to what we go through, I see a need to let the sighted glimpse it in bits and pieces, taking from that experience what they can.
I remember a few years ago when a former–and rather new–boyfriend asked to see my cane. He decided to try it out and swept it back and forth just as he had seen me do. We were outside of a crowded public restaurant. He slowly moved down the walkway and into the parking lot. Then he turned around and returned to the entrance of the restaurant. The whole experience lasted about five minutes.
With an awed smile, he handed my cane back to me. “That was way cool,” he gushed. “Did you see how all those people jumped out of my way. They thought I was blind. That was fun!” He stopped short of saying, Lucky you. But it was probably in his face.
He might have said a lot more. I can’t remember his entire reaction except for the fact that my stick gave him a sense of power over others. His glimpse was one-dimensional.
What he experienced in five minutes, I had to live with every day of my life. What opened his eyes squeezed mine shut. I didn’t think it was “cool” or “fun” at all. And his remarks belittled the massive struggle I had overcome to pick up my cane and use it just a few years earlier.
Of course, that entire incident irritated me.
But I merely smiled and took my cane back. He was a new boyfriend, after all. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I’m not sure that I handled that situation correctly. Maybe I should have kindly shared how I felt. But I didn’t.
Did it really matter all that much?
Recently, I talked to a vision-impaired friend about our Dinner in the Dark experience. This is an event where many sighted people are blindfolded and eat a meal in darkness to get a feel for what vision-impaired people live with. I had been one of the speakers after the three-course meal.
She said immediately, “I don’t want to go to anything like that. Those people think it’s ‘fun.’ But they can take their masks off and everything is fine again.” She made a face.
I thought of all the people who attended. Yes, that was their reaction. I heard that word a lot afterward and especially from my driver, who had thoroughly enjoyed putting herself in the hot seat during that meal. She had been looking forward to the experience for over a year when she first heard about this kind of event.
Let me give you a clearer picture of what went on.
Groups of about 6-8 blindfolded diners are led to their assigned tables by their coach. To ensure their safety, they hold onto the shoulder of the one in front of them. At the table, they sit down and are given a pep talk. This is when the coach tells them what to expect during the course of the meal and orients them to their table setting in terms of a clock. “Your silverware is at seven o’clock. Your drink will be at twelve o’clock.”
“Take it easy,” our coach said. “Don’t get overwhelmed. If you feel that is happening, you can take off your sleep shades. It’s not often that one goes from sighted to blind in one fell swoop.”
Huh? Yes, it does happen. And more than this coach thinks.
Throughout the meal, they experienced frustration. How could they see to cut their meat? Their fingers strayed into their plate trying to discern what a specific food was. They wore big plastic lobster bibs, to protect their clothing from spills. My brother peeked a little bit. Others giggled at their mistakes, when they realized they’d put salad dressing on their mashed potatoes instead of gravy. They had a hilarious time of it!
“That was fun! “
“We’ll need to do this again! When’s the next Dinner in the Dark?”
It’s easy to take umbrage. Until you hear comments like, “How do you do it?” “I couldn’t bear it.”
This is where understanding begins. And the conversation becomes real.
Our honest communication can shed light on our feelings, the strategies and our frustrations. This is where the depth of our darkness symbolically lifts.
We are no longer alone.
They are no longer in the dark.
I didn’t know how to begin this dialogue with my boyfriend even five years ago. But I do now. I think when we let go of the pain and pride, that indignant mindset that screams, “you have no idea!” and share so they do have some idea … life changes for both parties.
It’s no longer darkness.
Maybe it’s twilight.
Maybe it’s dawn.
For me, right now, it feels good. It’s so much nicer to reach out to let a stranger in. When I say, stranger, I mean anyone who has never stepped into my shoes, even family members. I once stuffed my feelings because I lacked the confidence to be real. I love that I’m moving forward. I (and we, collectively) don’t need to keep it a secret, select society with a closed membership.
Laughter isn’t insulting; it’s healing.
I’m learning it’s all in how I choose to perceive it.
Those of us who face ongoing vision loss go through many emotional stages and I don’t even think that we completely accept it ourselves.We have good and bad vision days, and we have to teach ourselves to develop patience.
So why not extend the same courtesy to others not experiencing vision loss?
Sometimes we–the vision-impaired–have to let go.
What have you gone through that you have been certain others could or would never understand? Or who have you cut off because they haven’t responded in the way you’ve liked?