This is a more personal column for a change. Last September I entered the realm of approximately 600 thousand others who are legally blind. Since then my eyesight has continued to worsen until it stabilized in the last few months. Even if there is more deterioration, it’s unlikely I will become totally blind.
It’s required some big changes in household life. No longer able to read books, we are slowly disposing of my treasured library. However, my iPad is set to read most printed material out loud so I listen to e-books, news articles, emails, texts, etc. I can still write Country Parson, but it’s slow going and Dianna has to edit drafts several times to clean things up. She also does all the driving, makes all appointments and does all the errands I used to do. All that on top of her own career as an artist with an online gallery of her work at diannawoolley.com. I enjoy cooking and with a little help from a few electronic gadgets, I can still prepare some pretty delicious meals. I have a hand held electronic reading device that manipulates printed words so I can read three or four at a time: perfect for recipes. Another device reads recorded labels on spice bottles: Dianna records the labels.
I use a white cane when out in public even though I can “see” the sidewalks and streets. Curious friends want to know what I can and can’t see, which is a perfectly reasonable question. The problem is, it’s not this or that. I can sort of, kind of see everything, unless I’m looking directly at it, in which case it becomes almost invisible. And what is sort of, kind of? You might try making a veil of several layers of fairly dense gauze. Make two small discs of three or four more layers, attach them to the inside of the veil about where your eyes will be. Put the veil over your face. What can you se? Well, everything, sort of. You can see contrasting colors, light and dark, shapes of objects, movement, but nothing clearly, and almost nothing at all where the discs block vision.
It’s not hard for me to navigate familiar places and pathways as long as there isn’t too much traffic, but not in a busy airport terminal with crowds jostling their way toward ticket counters and TSA. There, nothing is familiar. There are no pathways. The crowd feels like an assault on the senses. Unable to read any signs I rely on my spouse to lead the way. Check-in kiosks are useless and I need a paper boarding pass. Finding TSA and our gate is another adventure into the indecipherable. Surprisingly, TSA agents are patient and helpful, making that, at least, a breeze.
The other day while standing on the bank of a nearby creek, a friend asked if I could see the trees on the other side. I saw an irregular wall of green that I knew to be trees. I’m learning to associate shapes and colors of objects with the most likely thing they are. I get fooled from time to time. It’s an interesting learning curve.
There’s more of course. It isn’t a matter of what I can see. It’s a matter of how I see, which changes with context of space, ambient light, color differentiation, movement, familiarity, and so on. It’s confusing.
By God’s grace, we ended up in a small townhouse neighborhood near the center of Williamsburg. I know the streets and sidewalks from our house to Merchants Square (downtown), Colonial Williamsburg, and the William and Mary campus. With my white cane in hand, I can get to it all.
I’m learning and adapting, but it sucks – some days are just plain depressing. I’ve taught always that life is one big adventure, so it’s best to get on with it, taking delight wherever delight is to be found. This fall I hope to lead an adult seminar on how to understand the Bible, and we have a two week cruise planned for winter that will take us through the Panama Canal, a little bucket list thing. As I approach 80 I hadn’t expected to be entering this entirely new way of life, sort of starting all over again. Yet here we go, and we’ll see what happens.