Archive | April, 2016

Learning to Be a Soldier

19 Apr

by Francesca Marinaro

Every teacher knows the sensation of first-day butterflies, and years of experience notwithstanding, you never fully overcome that performance anxiety. The night before each semester begins, I lie awake battling the questions beating against my brain: “What if everyone drops the course? What if no one shows up? What if they laugh when I mispronounce their names?” yet larger than any other looms the question of how everyone will react when I stride into the room with a guide dog.

This semester, I faced the additional challenge of maneuvering campus with a broken foot and a walker, as if my blindness doesn’t make me conspicuous enough. Since I enlisted a colleague to help me with tasks like carrying my briefcase and opening doors, I wondered how my difficulty, however temporary, would impact the impression I’d convey to my students, many of whom had likely never encountered a blind person. Would they think me somehow inept—my injury related to the perils of navigating the world without sight? (I don’t think blind people injure themselves any more than sighted people do, but I’ve lost track of how many times someone has grabbed my wrist as I descended a flight of stairs under the assumption that I’d fall).

As students filed in, I stood carefully, swiping my clammy palms on my sweater.

“Wow, what happened to your leg?” one curious student asked. When I explained that I’d broken my foot, she observed sympathetically, “It must be so hard for you to get around.”

“It’s not easy,” I admitted. “but I’m managing.”

A thoughtful pause ensued, after which my student announced, “That’s because you’re a soldier.”

In the weeks following my injury, I’d spent hours berating myself for my clumsiness and uselessly asking why this had happened to me. Everything happens for a reason, so the saying goes, but for the life of me, I couldn’t see the greater good at work here. Ironically, I learned the reason courtesy of my admiring student—both the teachable moment my injury offered and, more broadly, that we discover the reason for why events in our lives unfold as they do only when we look beyond ourselves and consider how we can turn our struggles into stories that benefit others. I realized that just by standing at the front of the classroom, I’d given my students a lesson far greater than any my lectures would cover.

My students didn’t see what I feared they’d see: an exhausted, disabled woman. They saw a strong, confident woman who stared an obstacle in the eye and said, “Step aside, please.” They saw someone with the courage to show the world that people with disabilities can and do make productive contributions to society. They saw someone willing to set aside her anxiety to transform her trial into a teachable moment. I realized then that sometimes the greatest gift we can give to our students is our willingness to learn from the lessons they can teach us about ourselves.

 

Francesca Marinaro is an English professor and freelance writer/editor currently living in Florida with her guide dog. She was diagnosed with Leber’s as an infant and lost her usable vision as a teenager. She loves chocolate, Jane Austen, wine, Colin Firth movies, and defending the Oxford comma to anyone who’ll listen. Her work has been published on numerous blogs; visit her website at http://www.ffmarinaro.com to learn more about her work!

Unwanted News

15 Apr

by Charlie Tarantola

You know the news that’s coming when you get a visual field test done and most of the test is done before you see anything. You know you’re in trouble. You just about cry when you finally see the flashes. You know you can see some, but seeing the flashes reminds you, all is not lost -well at least for now.

When they are done with their torture, or testing as they call it, you go back into a room and wait for the doctor to tell you the bad news you are sure you are going to get. While waiting, you hear a nurse ask the doctor about being allowed to give another patient medicine to lower the eye pressure.  You think, someone else across the building is also slowly, but surely going blind. Well at least you’re not alone.

He taps the door. “I wish I had good news,” he mutters, “but I don’t.” He says what your vision is doesn’t matter anymore, because you were already legally blind. He says “I will fill out any forms you need and see you next year.”

You use your cane and walk out of the room. Standing on the street corner, you think to yourself, “Now I can apply to Seeing Eye because now I am ”really blind”.” Even on the worst day of my life, I still have to and will think positive. I listen, cross the street and hope I don’t miss the train.

Charlie Tarantola has been somewhere in between sighted and blind all of his life. Cortical blindness changed that. Growing up, he was taught to be strong, be brave, and be hopeful. He was lucky enough to have relatives who showed him being blind doesn’t mean your life ends

Penance for a Mortal Sin

7 Apr

by Nancy Scott

I chipped a top front tooth

two weeks before my First Communion.

I ran, said something open-mouthed,

mad and loud and smacked

the back of the aluminum chair.

 

I was a short seven,

often hitting the world with my head,

wanting excitement of air,

not able to see and dodge.

 

In the swallowed bits, I sensed

I’d sinned against God who wanted

smiling, Holy, whole

First Communion children,

blindness not counting

because He chose that.

 

Worse, I’d sinned against my mother

whose third commandant

after “study hard”

and “eat everything on your plate”

was “don’t run.”

 

I cried, afraid

they’d cancel Communion.

They filed the tooth,

said it would fall out

someday and I would be given

a second chance if

I didn’t run or open

my mouth too wide.

For the next two weeks, I didn’t.

Nancy Scott’s over 650 essays and poems have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies, newspapers, and as audio commentaries. She has a new chapbook, The Almost Abecedarian (on Amazon), and won First Prize in the 2009 International Onkyo Braille Essay Contest. Recent work appears in Breath and Shadow, Braille Forum, Disabilities Studies Quarterly, Philadelphia Stories, and Wordgathering.