by Jeff Flodin
Ancient, unenlightened cultures tortured, then killed, their blind.Ancient, enlightened cultures merely killed them. Praise the gods for enlightenment.
The Renaissance heralded a royal showcase for talented blind. Granted, court jester wasa degrading freak show, but at least royal freaks kept their heads.
Industrialization brought opportunity. When chair caners and piano tuners reached full employment, blind entrepreneurs could always venture into pencil sales on Wall Street’s prime corners.
There are exceptions. Creative and determined individuals regularly eclipse societal expectations. For the rest of us, society remains that amorphous mass we point our middle fingers at. While legislation like the ADA formalizes social conscience, Joe Six-Pack still views the disabled as inhabiting a strange, substandard, yet somehow entitled world. Following every declaration that, “She’ll go far,” comes, “for a blind girl.”
Still, the tragedy here is my own complicity in diminishing expectations.Take my first defiant act of adult-onset blindness: selling my cameras, golf clubs and the rest of my visual life to the lowest bidder. Self-immolation was preferable — at least death came on my terms.
Faced with new and frightening reality, I opted for familiar poison. Resisting white cane use protected my charade but left me at the back of the pack. Withdrawing kept me safe but out of the loop. Isolating prevented rejection but insured that opportunity never knocked. Venturing nothing minimized risk but attracted even less.
Diminishing my own expectations came naturally, in lock step with oppressive fear and loathing. Golfing became intolerable. Photography verged on impossible. Dining out featured pratfalls and slapstick. Interacting morphed into bad acting. Decades after the fact, I realize I could have adapted in subtle ways and stayed in the game longer. Back then, I saw the world in more absolute terms. If I could not be the perfect, sighted self, I’d be no self at all. I adopted the absurd, self-destructive slogan, “You can’t fire me! I quit!”
My strategy for feeling out of control was to exert control. Rather than adapt, I clung to life’s lost elements. I diminished what remained as undesirable leftovers. Blindness is not my biggest problem. What is more problematic is the set of character defects I brought to the blindness experience. Defects like perfectionism, which prevented me from accepting myself as worthy in all my physical manifestations; perfectionism, which rendered me incapable of accepting that I can and do make mistakes. And my personal specialty: self-pity. Victims are insufferable, even more so because they are the last to realize their offense.
I disserved myself by buying into the social stereotype that a blind life is less than equal. I compounded this mistake by defining myself by my limitations. Call becoming sick and tired of being sick and tired an epiphany if you wish. All I know is that things have gradually changed. I now see my blind life as different — a hell of a lot different to be sure— but not diminished. I find new ways of mastery. I feel less a victim of circumstance. I grow comfortable in my own skin. I seek success.Success breeds the belief that I can set my own expectations. Sure, I’ll neither cruise past Danika Patrick on the straightaway nor dislodge Peyton Manning as Pro Bowl quarterback, but I will surpass any parameters society might arbitrarily impose. I play a part in all life’s transactions. Whatever damage has been inflicted from without, I need not add damage from within. The next time I point that finger at society, I pray for the strength to turn it around, accept my role and give myself an even break.
Jeff Flodin is a writer. He has been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa for 30 years. Jeff’s bi-weekly blog, “Jalapenos in the Oatmeal: Digesting Vision Loss,” is posted at Second Sense – beyond vision loss’s (f/k/a The Guild for the Blind) website (www.second-sense.org) Read more about Jeff on the Statement page of this site.