As cliché as this saying is, the principal of this message is exceptionally true. Cherishing each and every component of life is not a very common practice in our world today. This is because our frame of reference is limited to personal experience. We take things for granted. For 23 years, I did exactly this. I was guilty of taking for granted the miracle of sight. Today, I do my best to treasure the pieces of life which can be easily overlooked.
***Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a sob story or to say my life is lesser now because of my lack of sight. Instead, I want to offer a perspective of someone who previously identified as able-bodied, and now identifies as disabled. My hope is to help generate a deeper appreciation for all that your eyes provide.***
As surprising as this may be, if there were a way to go back in time and have the opportunity to keep my sight, I would not choose to do so. A forthcoming post will be dedicated to providing contrasting insight into the top 5 things I have gained because I lost my sight.
Here is a list of the top 5 things I took for granted when I had my sight:
- Being a Member of a Privileged Identity Group
Initially, when I was thinking about the things which I took for granted, my mind immediately went to the material objects which have since changed or been forfeited due to my loss of sight. And, more than anything, it is the material things which most people who have not lost their sight immediately jump to when thinking about what must be the hardest part.
Sometimes when I tell my story to someone who has their vision, their initial reaction is, “Oh, I am so sorry,” with a tone of sympathy and sadness. I believe this unconsciously stems from the recognition that having full vision is a privilege, and I have had my membership card for this popular privileged social club, where the majority of people spend time together, taken away from me. Privilege is having unearned benefits and advantages afforded to people who fit into a certain social group. For some, having white skin is a privilege, for others being a male is a privilege, and in my first 23 years of life, having full eyesight was a privilege. To me, privilege is the ability to walk into a room, around town, or work and be surrounded by others like you and to be treated equally.
I understand that the idea of privilege can be a touchy topic for some, and in the other areas of my identity, I still have a high amount of privilege. I own that. I do miss the days of walking into a social setting and looking around (pun intended) and feeling comfortable because of the subconscious awareness that the others in the room were similar to me. I, like many others, am no longer afforded this luxury. Imagine that all of your closest friends, your family, those you work with, and 99% of the world are all members of the highly popular social club I previously mentioned. Although they know that you are not a part of it, there is nothing they can do to get you a membership card. Also, because not being a part of the social club is so rare, the way in which others interact with you is as though you are a part of the club, because others do not understand that those who are not in the club might interact differently.
The intent here is not to shame or guilt trip those who have the privilege of full eyesight. Instead, if you belong to this privileged group, recognizing the comfort and luxuries afforded to those with privilege can be a powerful exercise; and I hope to empower those with privilege to act.
- Living in a World Designed For Me
If you are ever curious about the feeling of living in a world which is not designed for you, I implore you to spend one day with a blindfold on. If you are truly bold and want to dive head first into the deep end, try it during a work day. I’m sure there is a lot of fear associated with this. What are some of the immediate struggles which come to mind? What kind of mentality do you think one has to have in order to be productive being visually impaired? Let me walk you through a bit of what it feels like to live out your day this way:
You wake up and go to pick out your clothes. You want to wear matching clothes and maybe you have colors or specific clothes in mind but there is no way to tell what is what. Is this your purple or green shirt? Are these your gray or brown pants? How will you tell which is which and if it all matches?. Then you go to get in the shower. You have to know the feel of which bottle is shampoo, conditioner, and body wash and so you have very specific places for each. Then, you go to make breakfast. Is this food expired? What do the instructions on the box say for how long to put it in the microwave? Where is the ingredient you are looking for? Which of these spices is the one you are looking for? If you are cooking with a meat, can you determine when it is done? You are not feeling too hot today so you want to take some DayQuil? but which of the boxes of medicine is it? And once you found the one that feels like it are you sure it is not NyQuil? Finally, you might want to make sure you look presentable, but the mirror is no longer an option so here is hoping for the best. And you have not even left the house.
as you can only imagine, the rest of the day follows suit. From being greeted in the hallway by a voice you do not recognize, to being handed a sheet of paper and asked to read it, the world which you are imagining is a reality for many. If you were so emboldened to attempt this challenge, your ability to be creative, problem solve, and adapt were probably at an all-time high. Along with figuring out ways to make it work, I am fully aware of the feelings of exasperation and helplessness which comes with living in a world not designed for you.
Although I, and most others who live in a world not designed for us, have figured out ways in which to adapt, there is an emotionally exhausting toll which comes with this on a daily basis. With the constantly advancing technology of the world, coupled with the growing capacity for inclusivity, right now is honestly the best time to be blind. What I mean is, I am able to fully operate my cellphone, go to movies, and even perform all functions of my job because of the advanced and inclusive state of the nation we are in right now. For this I am truly grateful.
However, I do miss going to a restaurant and perusing the menu on my own, enjoying apps such as Snapchat, and spending the day in Barnes & Noble reading a variety of books.
If you decided to participate in my aforementioned challenge, or even just closed your eyes and tried to imagine the parts of your day which would change, I hope you recognize the gravity of taking the blindfold off, because not all of us are able to.
Your face is uniquely beautiful. It can light up a room, express happiness and joy when you see a friend, and speak unspoken pain when you experience sadness. Faces are how you recognize someone, they can be used to gauge one’s mood or tell whether or not someone is listening. Faces are a way to show how the forces of time have evolved your features. They are the reason Skype and FaceTime were invented, and without them, selfies would be obsolete.
Through losing my sight, I have become much more perceptive to the way in which people speak. I am more keen to pick up on their tone, word choice, and am truly able to emotionally feel their attitude. My empathy is how I see.
Although I have been able to compensate in these ways, I still find myself missing all of the beautiful faces of this world and especially those I am closest to. I have not seen a new face in over two years. To say this has been difficult is an understatement. When I have met new people in these last two years, I usually pair their personality and voice with what I can see of them, (I am not completely blind) and match it with someone’s face I know well. Sometimes, I will ask about their celebrity doppelgänger. This works well enough and some people get a laugh when I show them a picture of who I imagine they look like. But it’s just is not the same. I miss seeing smiles. I miss being able to look at pictures of my loved ones. And I mostly miss being able to make eye contact with someone as we gaze into the windows of each others souls.
Whether you are looking in the mirror at your own face, walking around and notice a face you do not know, or looking into the eyes of a loved one, smile because you are seeing.
Driving means independence. It allows you the ability to go wherever you want, whenever you want. It provides you with a feeling that I often miss. Oh what I would give to be stuck in traffic! Windows down, and the music of my choice blasting through the speakers. It has been over two years since I’ve opened the driver’s side door, turned the key in the ignition, heard and felt the engine come to life, and experienced control over the steering wheel.
These past two years I have had so many wonderful friends who are more than accommodating with assisting me in getting places. I have also grown quite fond of walking places and learned how great and helpful public transportation can be. But, whether it is getting a ride from a friend, waiting for the bus, or using Uber, I am always on someone else’s schedule. More than my car itself, the loss of full independence is one of the hardest things to deal with. So next time you are in your car, sitting in traffic, take a moment to look around and smile; because the road is yours and where and when you are going is up to you.
- Playing Games
Games have always been something which brought my family together. The bond of playing games allows love, relationships, and connections to grow stronger at the kitchen table where thousands of hours were spent playing hundreds of games. We played it all; board games like Risk, Monopoly, Settlers of Cataan, and card games like Casino, Rage, Hearts, and more. This was a way we spent so much quality time together. My friends and family have been so wonderful with finding games which are easier to play and that you might not need vision for, and for this I am truly grateful. But I do miss the games we used to play and the laughter and love which came with them.
Along with this, the way in which I enjoy athletic games has changed. I recently told someone that on the day of a huge football game this Fall, I would instead be attending a concert. This surprised them because they know how passionate I am about athletics. I still enjoy sports, but I would rather enjoy the game from my couch while either listening to the TV or the radio than go to the game itself. Although the atmosphere is still fun, going to games in person does not provide the same entertainment as it used to. So whether you are behind home plate or in the nose bleeds, take a moment to appreciate everything you are seeing.
The intention of this post was both to provide information regarding my experiences of living with a visual impairment, and to invoke a sense of appreciation through reflection. These top five are reflective of my lived experience and I do not speak for the rest of this community. You do not know what you have until it is gone is true, but waiting to appreciate something until it is gone does not need to be.