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No Face in the Mirror

11 Aug

by Marcia J. Wick

Stumbling over my guide dog, I make my way to the bathroom getting ready to meet a new day. But I cannot see how I will greet the day, even though I am standing in front of the mirror. The reflection of my face in the mirror is disappearing due to my progressive vision loss.

Whether I start my day feeling like death warmed over, or I wake refreshed and ready to put my best face forward, it is the same reflection I see. Soft and fuzzy at the edges. Clouds and vapor off which the light bounces and flickers. Pixilated glimpses at a part of my nose and expressionless orbits for eyes. No use worrying about plucking my eyebrows or checking for blemishes.

Although my days are dimming, there is a silver lining. Not seeing how I look in the mirror presents an unexpected opportunity for me to use my mind’s eye.  I tell myself, “You look great!” My fading image forces me to let go of judgments I might heap upon myself if I could actually make out my finer features.

My progressive vision loss helps to keep my steady aging process at bay, at least as far as I can see! Staring ahead while brushing my teeth, I do not discern the crow’s feet seeking permanent residency at the outside corners of my mouth and eyes, nor can I perceive the pervasive grey masking my former dark brown hair color. If I squint, I can almost imagine myself as a blond bombshell.

When the face looking back at you from the mirror disappears, you have the chance to imagine yourself in a new way. If you frown at the bathroom mirror first thing in the morning, you might lock in a picture of how you will look to others during the course of your day.

There is an advantage to not judging yourself by how you appear in a mirror day after day. If you have some vision, consider taping a picture of someone else’s face at just the right size and height to block out your own image. Look at you! You look as great as Wonder Woman Linda Carter or Clark Kent as Superman! Your eyes are bright and your hair and brows are trim. Your teeth could not look more brilliant, and your neck is tucked firmly out of sight under your chin.

You look great! You feel great! You smile! When you lose sight of your own face in the mirror, you can imagine Sophia Loren or someone rich, powerful and influential. I promise you will feel happier and more confident about facing the day when you fancy a new face in the mirror.

Marcia Wick is enjoying new adventures with her first guide dog, Viviane, a 60-pound yellow lab from Guide Dogs for the Blind. Marcia is legally blind due to Retinitis Pigmentosa. Recently retired, her career included newspaper reporting, public relations, communications and publishing.  With two daughters now grown and a grandson, Marcia is returning to her writing roots in partnership with her sister, Jennifer Walford, as The Write Sisters. She also advocates for public transit, the Visually Impaired and Blind Skiers , and currently serves on the GDB Alumni Association Board of Directors.  Marcia lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and Viviane.

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Freedom

27 Jul

by Charlie Tarantola

I swing the leather saddle onto his back. My cane is in the barn’s office, tucked away hidden. This to me is somewhat freeing. The smell of horses, and hay are around me. Heavy leather boots on my feet. A helmet is on my head for safety, so I don’t lose another chunk of my precious vision, or worse.

I walk him slowly into the ring, and to the mounting block. I get on quickly, ask him to walk on.

When he does, I breathe in heavy, I don’t have to worry about walking into something tripping or even where I am in space, I am free from the burden of my blindness, free from the worry.

I ask him to canter. I am flying, I can hear his smooth three beat gait, over everything else. And then I open my eyes, and see his bright red chestnut neck, I pat it, and mutter good boy Leo.

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

Fixing the Bathroom Door

30 Jun

by Nancy Scott

It started with my maintenance request. Roger showed up to caulk bathroom tile and check the toilet flush mechanism.

As we stood there after he finished those tasks, I laughingly said, “You have to see what this door does. Of course, I caused it myself. The door was screeching like a spooky movie and I couldn’t stand it. So I sprayed the hinges with WD-40. The screeching stopped, but watch what happens now.”

I moved the bathroom door from full open to a little more closed. And the door, by itself, very slowly continued to move all the way shut.

Roger laughed. He said, “It’s like a little ghost is moving it.”

That was the perfect description.

“But I can’t find a good position to make the shower steam escape,” I complained. “And when the door does manage the perfect openness, I forget, get out of the shower and promptly hit my head on it.”

Roger has a blind relative. And he’s used to me, so he laughed some more. I did, too.

“I might be able to fix it,” he chuckled and went to his toolbox. I think he brought a hammer. He reached up and banged three times. He said, “There. I tightened the hinges you loosened. Try it now.”

And it worked. Perfectly. No matter where I angled the door, it stayed put. Wonderful. Glorious!

This was an unexpected, immediate benefit only for me. It made me have just a little more faith in my fellow man. It made us both more in love with the world for a few moments. It was easy and it will be helpful for a long time. Everything hinges on other things.

Sometimes good happens in just that way— a task, a conversation, an opportunity, a tool and some knowledge to use it, and a long-term outcome. Life, and writing, are often like that.

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.

Seeing Red

7 Jun

by Stella De Genova

Imagine a world of blurred and sometimes abstract images. Imagine looking up and seeing a blue sky and beneath it, gray buildings and foliage and silhouettes of people.  There is subtlety of color but is it green or brown or is it purple or blue?  And when the light dims – well, let’s just say all bets are off.  I’m never sure enough of colors anymore to be able to pick and buy my own clothing in a store.

And then something catches my eye: a red apple, a red cayenne pepper, a red flower, a red convertible. It’s almost like an artistic twist in a Benini film.  What a stroke of luck for me!  No, not the part that I have RP (retinitis pigmentosa) and this is what I see daily but the fact that red has always been a favorite color of mine and now, along with the bright blue sky on a sunny day, this is the color that consistently pops out for me.

It’s weird the way life works. We can all think about what we’ve lost in life but let’s be honest, a person can only dwell on loss for so long.  Could be we’re in a better place when we move past the loss and cherish what we do have.  Trust me, there’s someone out there who has less than you or me.

Personally, I choose to see red today and I have no complaints about that!

Change

27 May

by Jim Holzman

What is change? Change can be what’s left over from a dollar after purchasing a pack of gum or candy bar. Change can be a different way of doing something, it can be a new address or town. Change can be simply another way to look at something. Over time, the way I remember this story has changed my perspective on that day.

It was summer 1973, maybe 1974. The rain that pelted the beaten down, weathered streets of my north side Chicago neighborhood had given way to brilliant sunshine that had all the birds, as well as most of work-goers, in a decidedly cheery mood. It was on this Friday that my mom was taking me to the Cubs game! This was a rare treat for a 10 year old, less than perfectly obedient kid, but it was lady’s day at Wrigley Field, so all women got in free, my bleacher seat would be $3.00.

My mother spent the morning making crunchy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We also packed her thick plastic flower covered bag with a thermos of homemade chocolate milk that poured like motor oil. When we arrived at the platform in order to catch the train to the ballpark, the amount of people that were ahead of us was, by estimation, the population of the whole world. We got to the park, where instantly, my nose was greeted with the heavenly aroma of hot dogs, cigar smoke and stale beer, it was a memory that still lingers now. When we got to the ticket window the uniformed cashier ruined my day as well as my summer; “Sold Out”. I cried, threw a fit, and complained to my mom how unfair it was. I had been looking forward to this day forever.

My mom and I got off the train, my eyes were still red, puffy and the tears were still glistening. My mom seeing this, grabbed my hand and said “Instead of going home, let’s go to the park by the beach.”We sat on the blanket that my mom had packed for the game and ate the best peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drank the best chocolate milk I’ve ever had.

I lost my mom 3 years later. My perspective along with the way that I choose to remember that day changes frequently. When it happened I was a brat, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to have my mom all to myself for the whole afternoon, I do now. I can’t tell you who won the Cub’s game that day, but I can vividly describe my mom’s beautifully flowered bag and the bright purple scarf she wore on her head. This story remains as one of my fondest childhood memories for somewhat selfish reasons; it’s all mine.

 

Jim Holzman has RP and is a volunteer at Second Sense blind service organization in Chicago. He jokes about everything, including his ability to write.  This story is being re-posted to remind Jim that he definitely can write and should keeo it up.

The Gardening Bug: Simple Ways to Enjoy Gardening

16 May

by Kathy Austin

We’ve had an early spring here in Chicago. I’ve been out in the garden a lot cleaning up last year’s plant remains and broken tree branches, transplanting lilies and hostas and planning what I’ll be purchasing to infuse my beds with flowers this summer.

I love to garden – it is my respite, my relaxation and my sanity. Gardening brings me peace.  Even though I can no longer see the plants, I still have a vision in my mind of what it all looks like.  I can tell if a plant is thriving by feeling if its leaves are firm and healthy.  I hear the robins maneuvering through the underbrush to get to the earthworms in a pile of soil I removed when planting new shrubs.  I enjoy the fragrance of daffodils when exploring the ground for little sprouts of plants waiting to burst through and open themselves to the new season.  My anticipation of how the garden will be this year is all I’ve been thinking about.

Tending a garden is harder now with no real useful vision. Sometimes I think I have too much and I get overwhelmed with all that needs to be done.  But knowing that gardens are always a work in progress, always changing, I continue on just because it makes me feel good.

I know not everyone has the land, ability or desire to manage a property full of garden beds, but here are a couple of ideas that may bring the joy of gardening into your life.

Little spaces, little gardens

With one container and some potting mix, you can create an herb garden. Mix a parsley plant, basil, oregano and thyme all in one pot, water thoroughly and put it in a spot that gets at least six hours of sun.  You’ll have all you need for a pesto or spaghetti sauce.  Bonnie Plants has some great combination ideas.  A basket of planted herbs makes a great gift too!

Create a butterfly bath

Even though I can’t see the butterflies, friends and family notice them when they are in my garden and will describe their antics. This enriches my gardening experience because I know I am providing them a refreshing bath and a cool drink and creating something beautiful for others to watch

A butterfly bath is an easy DIY project that’s inexpensive using terracotta pots and saucers, small rocks and pebbles and a parsley plant. Go one step further and surround your butterfly bath with containers of butterfly attracting annuals such as petunias, cosmos, sweet alyssum or verbena — all readily available at home centers and nurseries this time of year.

Give the gift of a garden

Share the beauty of early spring annuals like pansies with friends and neighbors. Recently, I purchased a couple of small terracotta pots and saucers and a package of yellow and purple pansies.  I potted them up, tied a ribbon around the pot and gave them as a hostess gift. Another one went to my great niece to take home with her after a visit to my house.  This inexpensive and small token of appreciation brought a smile to all who received the pot.

Learning is fun

Another way I enjoy gardening is through social media. I love the Extension Master Gardener and the national Garden Bureau’s Facebook pages.  Especially now, as gardening season gets under way, both organizations share lots of good ideas, great information and interesting facts.  There are literally hundreds of other gardening pages on Facebook to choose from, too!

The BARD website from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has a handful of gardening books, some reference and others that tell stories. Search the BARD website under “gardening” in the subject section.  My favorite reference books include:

The Nonstop Garden by Jennifer Benner and Stephanie Cohen

The New Low Maintenance Garden by Valarie Easton,

The Well Designed Mixed Garden by Tracy DiSabato

Horticulture Magazine

No dirty hands, no aching back

I’m also in the process of reading A Patchwork Garden by Sidney Edison. It is a lovely story of how her country garden in Newtown, Connecticut has evolved over three decades.  She intertwines her knowledge, successes and failures with the fellow gardeners who inspired and taught her along the way.  I live vicariously through this book – it would be my dream to have this kind of a garden, but I will try to be content with my 60 x 120 suburban plot and keep on trying to make it something all will enjoy – butterflies, bees, birds and people, too!

Happy spring!

Links

https://bonnieplants.com/library/give-mom-an-herb-garden/

https://bonnieplants.com/library/create-butterfly-bath/

https://www.facebook.com/extensionmastergardener

https://www.facebook.com/nationalgardenbureau/

https://nlsbard.loc.gov/login//NLS

Kathy Austin is the Community Engagement Specialist and Volunteer Coordinator at Second Sense blind service organization in Chicago, IL. This post was lent to us from the Second Opinion blog at the Second Sense website.

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!