We may have been at a museum, or maybe it was a park.
I don’t remember the location, but I will never forget the realization. I was with my parents, and younger brother. My Dad was describing something to me, and as my nine-year-old-girl mind contrasted that with the shouts and laughter from the other families, I suddenly realized a terrible thing!
My family, the best family in the world, couldn’t have fun like everyone else. They couldn’t have fun, because they had to stop and describe things to me. I was slowing them down.
I was keeping them from enjoying things.
It made my stomach hurt.
It made me want to cry.
I knew if I said anything, they would just say they liked describing things, because they were a sweet family.
So I started telling people not to describe anything.
I pretended I thought that having someone describe things was for babies. The truth was, . I felt ashamed, . ashamed that I could not run ahead and entertain my parents by hollering, “LOOK,”, ashamed that I could not be as quick or as capable or as fun as other kids, ashamed that my Dad and Mom and brother couldn’t use their eyes for their own enjoyment, but instead had to use their eyes on my behalf because mine didn’t work.
I was born with boundless curiosity about the world, but after that day, I tamped it down. I tried to stop asking, “What does it look like?” “What does it say?” “How big is that?” “What color is it?” I tried so very hard not to be blind.
You can be raised in a fortress of love and self-esteem, but when you begin to interpret the world and your place in it, there are bound to be misperceptions along the way. I spent the rest of my youth feeling like I was a burden to the people I loved, because of my blindness. It was all in my head!
No one in my family ever said one negative thing about my blindness. They tried their best to keep telling me about the world they could see. I am sure they were baffled as to why I seemed not to want to know. As a little girl, I did not know how to verbalize the guilt I felt for a circumstance I did not control. So I felt the feelings and just kept living.
My first inkling that I might have misread my situation came from my college best friend. We were in a shop, when she started taking things off the shelves, opening the boxes, and handing the items to me. I was aghast!
“What are you doing? These people are going to think we’re shoplifting!” “You’re thinking about buying something, right?”
“So you’re a customer. Customers have the right to look at things before they buy them. That’s what I’ve been doing. So why shouldn’t you?”
She said it so matter-of-factly, that I was shocked I hadn’t thought of it that way before!
A few years later, I was talking to my brother, and I just flat out asked him, if he felt like he missed out on anything because he had a blind sister.
His answer shocked me more than the shop incident.
“I think I got more. I appreciate things other people don’t pay attention to, because of knowing you.”
And finally, there was my best friend, Rhonda.
We were going to a marathon, my mobility skills are not great, so I was going to need help getting around.
I said something about how it bothered me to rain on everybodys’ parade by needing help all the time, and I will never forget what she said.
“It helps us to help you. It opens our eyes to tell you what we see. You give so much more than anything you take. You tell us what you see when you write, and that’s more than we tell you. Don’t worry about it.”
Rhonda was a woman of few words. She said what she meant, and you damn well better believe she meant what she said.
If ever I harbored any notions that blindness was something to feel guilty or ashamed about, she saw to the end of that right quick! I spent so much time worrying about what I didn’t have, or couldn’t give, or couldn’t do, that I completely forgot to focus on what I could give to my loved ones.
I put myself through all kinds of crap, for no reason! It was nobody’s fault but mine.
Thankfully, my friends and family straightened me out on that point, once I stopped being stubborn and started listening.
When you have a disability, it can be hard not to feel as if you are a burden to the people you love. I struggle with that feeling, even now. But I am not my disability!
I am loving, honest, loyal, optimistic, a cat lady, a half marathon finisher, a self-taught techie, freakishly obsessed with books, fascinated by time travel, and a million other things that have nothing to do with being blind.
If you have a disability and you feel, or have felt, the way I did, know that you are so much more! You are amazing! Focus on what you have, and what you can give, and try not to worry so much about the things you can’t do. It’s likely that you’re the only one feeling bad about it anyway, because the majority of people like to help others. Also realize, that while the help you need may be more obvious, you are not alone, because every person on this Earth needs help in one way or another.
And for everyone, I know it sounds cliché, but don’t ever be ashamed of who you are!
You are here for a purpose, you are unique, and whatever faults you may find in yourself, physical or otherwise, know that everybody else finds a lot more fascinations about you than any faults you can bring up.
Finally, to Mom, Dad, Jeffrey, and everybody else who put up with my introspective weirdness . . thank you! I finally know what you knew all along. I have much to give, and I am here for a reason.
These days, there is no shame in my game!
We may have been at a museum, or maybe it was a park.