Sometimes people treat blindness like it’s this endless world of darkness. Of course, in a sense of visual acuity, this might be the case for some, but certainly not all of us who live with vision impairment. And in the figurative sense, nothing could be further from the truth. When someone makes such comments about how drab and boring my life is, the conversation goes something like this.
Random person (RP): “Oh, I’m so sorry you can’t see.”
Me: “It’s not so bad.”
RP: “But you can’t see sunsets or pictures or…”
Me: “True, but I–”
RP: “That must be so tragic.”
And it continues in this vain. Vision is so integral to sighted life – and, as my friend Leona so eloquently put it, such a greedy sense – that the idea of living without it is viewed as more terrifying than premature death. I would even go so far as to state that we who live without seeing such beautiful things as sunsets, loved ones, photographs and mountaintops – or seeing them imperfectly – are thought of as “broken” people.
But just because I can’t see much at all – or others I’ve met in person or through social media can’t see things clearly – doesn’t mean that beautiful things can’t be appreciated visually. Last week, I found this gorgeous article by Nicole C. Kear, author of the terrific memoir “Now I see You.” In the article, she briefly describes what it was like to discover there would be a point at which she wouldn’t be able to see anymore, and a recent experience where she accidentally left her Iphone at home and realized she could still visually catch beautiful things around her. I found it poignant and moving, and have enjoyed seeing her journey of losing her sight – from “carpe diem” to acceptance, sometimes one in spite of the other. The world can also be captured through photography, and one doesn’t necessarily need great vision to create works of photographic art. Not long ago, Dudley Hanks was interviewed about his work as a freelance photographer; in another interview, he showed how technology aids him in capturing, touching up, and developing his photos.
But what about those of us who’ve never had vision to begin with and have no memory or reference to colour? Or those who simply don’t process the world visually? We are by no means left out when it comes to enjoying the beautiful things of life. Some have a terrific ear for music, others can identify the call of many birds around the world, still others are fantastic chefs and can find the perfect herb or spice to enhance a dish’s flavour or aroma. I enjoy working with my hands, particularly with beads; the contrast of size and shape (and, yes, colour) is breathtaking to me. If you’ve never gone into a bead shop, closed your eyes, and just let your fingers run through the hung strands of beads, take the opportunity and enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures. Do as I did last weekend and take a step outside on a warm summer night (provided it’s safe to do so), close your eyes and enjoy the quiet of an evening (or the sounds of children laughing), the smell of neighborhood barbecues and backyard fire pits, and the feel of the grass between your toes without all that greedy vision to distract you.
Are there times I wish I could fully see my loved ones’ faces, photographs, and nature, or get in my car and just take a scenic drive through the mountains just because it’s my heart’s desire? Sure, of course there are. But I think in some ways my lack of vision has allowed me to appreciate some of those little things that I can smell and touch and hear without the greediest of the five senses hijacking my enjoyment. And just because someone’s vision isn’t perfect, it doesn’t mean it can’t be used to capture some truly beautiful things visually. The world can be a wonderful place, filled with sights, sounds, smells, textures and flavours; treating sight like it’s the only way to appreciate beauty is itself a way of denying oneself an enhanced appreciation of beautiful things themselves.