With all of the new skills I was learning and with my developmental psychology class my daily schedule was fuller than ever. The only problem was that it was spring. I used to love the transition from winter to spring. I always scoured the yard and neighborhood for the first daffodils. In the woods I searched for the first wildflowers and delighted in identifying them. I had even been known to pull off the road on which I happened to be driving to check out a flowering shrub that caught my eye.
But these weren’t options for me anymore. I couldn’t help feeling bereft when I dwelled on this new fact of my life. I’d never be identifying flowers, shrubs, or trees visually again. There would be no more swinging up onto my horse bareback to go tearing through the woods reveling in the return of the natural world from dormancy to vibrant lushness. I needed to talk about all of this with someone. It needed to be someone who knew about adjustment to blindness. I picked up the phone and called Jeff at the VA.
“I’m feeling kind of bummed out,” I began. “I need to get out of the house. I need to talk about my feelings and fears.”
“I understand,” said Jeff promptly. “Hang on. I need to make a quick phone call and I’ll call you back.”
In just a few minutes he did so. “I’ll pick you up at 5:00 this afternoon. Let’s go out to dinner.”
Later, seated at a table in a restaurant at the mall I tried to explain. “I don’t know how to describe what’s going on,” I began. “I’m learning so many new things but it kind of feels like my brain and emotions aren’t keeping up. This blindness thing is so hard. I don’t know, I mean you work with blind people all the time. Is this normal? Will it get easier?”
After a long silence Jeff said, “Blindness might just be the most difficult disability to adjust to. Sight loss affects every area of your life. And, you’re absolutely right, the emotional adjustment is sometimes the most difficult part.”
I reached for my glass of wine and almost knocked it over.
“See what I mean,” said Jeff, catching the glass before it tipped. “Keep your hand low and your fingers slightly bent. You have to learn a new way to do something as simple as picking up a wine glass. The skills that Vera and I are teaching you are only half the battle. Learning these skills will increase your competence and, at the same time, your self-confidence. This, unfortunately, is only half the battle.”
It felt as though Jeff could read my mind. How many times had I had this exact train of thought. Jeff, however, seemed to be able to put it succinctly into words. Slowly, I said, “Tell me more.”
“There’s a book by a Catholic priest that I think you might be ready to read. It’s called Blindness, What it is, What it Does, and How to Live With it.”
It was the second time I had been referred to this book. Into my mind flashed what Henry II had said about Thomas a Becket, “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?” But I didn’t want to be rid of him. I wanted to read what he had written.
“Vera mentioned that book too,” I said. “She didn’t seem to think that it was such a great idea to read it just yet.”
“She may be right,” said Jeff. “There is, however, one concept of Father Carroll’s that I think you are ready for and might find helpful. He says that a person who becomes blind as an adult must let go of his sighted self in order to move forward and develop his life as a person who is blind.”
We sat in silence while I thought about what Jeff had said. How could he be telling me to just forget about the twenty six years I had lived? On the other hand, there were definitely parts of that twenty six years I’d just as soon put behind me. I can’t pretend that the idea of starting over didn’t have some appeal. Feeling conflicted I asked, “But how can I just pretend that my past life doesn’t exist anymore?”
Jeff looked at me for a minute and then said, “That’s the wonderful thing about Father Carroll’s idea. You’re still the same person once you’ve relinquished that old self. It’s just that you’re free to move forward with your life rather than dwelling with regret on the things you can’t do or be anymore.”
We finished our dessert and coffee in silence. Jeff had certainly given me something to think about. As I lay in bed that night I examined my feelings. I couldn’t help comparing Father Carroll’s ideas to the death and rebirth of Jesus. But the man was, after all, a Catholic priest. I thought of all the other places where I had run across the death and rebirth concept. It was all over the place in various mythologies. I saw it every year in the turning of the seasons. Instinctively I knew that I could not really move forward with the hand I had been dealt without letting go of old notions, habits, and thought patterns. I had noticed, over and over again, that my most frustrating moments were those when I railed against the impossibility of doing things the way I used to do them, or when I was filled with resentment that I couldn’t see the sunset or the huge cherry tree that was blooming in the front yard. There were to be many setbacks in the months and years ahead, but that was the beginning of my willingness to look forward instead of backwards.