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For We

If you witness me walking with my white cane you have been given an opportunity.
You may choose to believe this stick is solely for me.
You may view the cane as a reason to question my ability.
Reflect on this entire moment being centered around your ability to see.
For if you do not, the symbol I walk with, has lost the power of being for we.
After six months of progressively losing my sight, my vision had gotten to a point where I did not feel comfortable or safe walking in unfamiliar territory alone. This severely limited the amount of independence I was afforded and the frustration which stemmed from feeling trapped was unbearable. I did not want to start using a white cane, which I had previously seen other visually impaired or blind individuals use. I believed that to walk around with this piece of equipment was equitable to shouting to everyone, “Hey! I am blind!.” Although this is exactly who I was, I was not emotionally ready to publicly share this identity with the world. However, there came a point where the desire for independence won the battle over my fear and shame. When I decided to lean into the vulnerability, not only did I gain a degree of my independence back, but my life became astonishingly more simple in a way I had never foreseen.
As I have now been using my cane (which I refer to as my stick. Because for me, the word cane creates images and thoughts which are different than the function which I use the device for) for over a year I have learned that it is as much for me as it is for others. For me, the stick serves as a means to signal if stairs are coming up. It allows me to identify where sidewalks are and if I am about to walk into a puddle. Most importantly, my stick allows for those who I encounter to be aware of my identity.

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Finding Purpose

This blog was originally written for my friend and mentor Zach Mercurio’s website.  Zach  created Purposespeaks.com  as a way to inspire individuals, leaders, and organizations to deliver their authentic purpose to the world. Please check out some of the amazing work Zach is doing and I hope you enjoy this blog.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Coach Carter. The true story of a high school basketball team from a rougher area of town, and their basketball coach who refuses to hold the men to anything but the highest standard. During the movie, one of the athlete’s cousins is shot and killed during a drug deal. This player, Cruz, is an athlete who is passionate about the sport, but more stubborn than the rest when it comes to their coach’s rules as evidenced by his choice to quit the team twice. This shooting, combined with Cruz pushing his teammates, coach, and sport away, forces him to recognize that he has lost everything which gave him his identity. In his darkest moment, he turns to his coach and begs to be allowed to rejoin the team. One of the most memorable moments of the movie is when Cruz rises from the ashes and delivers a powerful speech to his teammates and coach. He quotes Marianne Williamson as he relates, “It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
It is inevitable that at one and most likely at many points in your life you have felt inadequate in both major and minor ways. Leading up to these moments, we feel as though our purpose in life  is clear with no foreseeable obstacles in our way on our path to greatness. But then, something happens and the perfect plan for us and our lives is flipped upside down. I truly believe that these moments are the most crucial and identity forming times in someone’s life. For it is in our moments of inadequacy where our purpose feels gone. That we are forced to answer one of the most difficult questions “Who am I.” I agree with Williamson’s idea of our greatest fear being that we are powerful beyond measure, but more firmly believe that we are only able to truly understand our power through feeling inadequate.

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Something Lost

Have you ever lost something that was both very valuable, near and dear to your heart? Maybe it was something of material such as your phone, wallet or purse, or your keys. Maybe while out at a park, or some place else, where there are many things happening all around – you lose your dog, younger sibling, or even your child. At first, you try and remain calm as you reassure yourself that you know your something has to be around here somewhere. You look in all of the places where it should be only to come up empty handed. You become slightly more worried. You begin asking others if they have seen what you are looking for, and their lack of knowledge only adds to the worry and frantic, which is beginning to consume you. As the search continues to no avail, the fear of having lost this item becomes a reality; sadness, grief, and hopelessness wash over you like a wave.

For most, this search ends positively. Your wallet was at the restaurant you had eaten the night before, or your child was playing hide and go seek with others the whole time. But for a select few, no matter how much time, energy, and resources have gone into locating this item of utmost importance, there are still no answers.
This experience of losing something of high value began for me a little over a year ago as I progressively lost my vision due to a rare hereditary disease known as Lebers Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON). From June of 2014 to November 2014, I went from never visiting an eye doctor and having 20/20 vision, to having what I describe as now having 10 percent of my vision and being legally blind. All of those emotions, which are associated with losing something, were very much a part of my life, but this was not something that was easily replaceable. Along with this, I am reminded on a daily basis of what I have lost, not only through how I physically see, but also in the ways in which my life has changed. Getting around, watching movies, and interacting in social gatherings are all things I still do but are just a few of the numerous ways in which what I do now looks and feels very different. Now, do not get me wrong, different is not always bad. This year has been the most difficult experience of my life. My adaptability, my supportive friends and family, and most importantly, God, have allowed me to have and participate in every activity I would with full vision, and possibly, even more. I am employed, participate in Crossfit, go running (with a partner and a tether), read books (audio books are awesome!), cook (I make a mean stir fry), and even go on hikes. Although these outward events and activities have, for the most part, been unaltered, my inner being has changed dramatically. I have become much more mature as often happens when one goes through something traumatic. My view of myself, others, and life in general has shifted. Overall, I am emotionally stronger than ever before.

Part of me wishes I would have began blogging, or at least journaling, about this experience the minute I was made aware of what was happening to me. To have captured the raw emotions of someone who was progressively losing their vision, and the struggles and triumphs that came along with this identity-changing experience is the stuff that makes pages turn. But as I think back on all of the reflection through writing that has not occurred over the past year, I am reminded why. Writing down any of what was happening would have forced me to come to terms with all of the emotions that came with it. It would have reminded me that this was not a nightmare I could wake up from.

So why have I chosen now, over a year since all of this began, to start reflecting and writing about this experience? There is a small possibility that the thing I lost – the item I searched everywhere for, the thing I asked others if they knew of it’s location, and which I eventually gave up on ever finding – could be found once again…