Walking in the dark

Have you ever worn a really good sleep shade? You’ll know if you have. You could stand out in the bright sunshine and still see nothing; not one tiny glimmer of light.

I’ve done this a couple of times. The first time was nearly three years ago in a hotel lobby in Boca Raton. I had someone at my elbow and a white cane in hand as I walked from a meeting room to the front entry way and back. A little case of nerves, but that was all. My biggest worry was the water feature that made up part of the area we walked through.

The second time?

That was a few days ago and it was rough. We left the hotel, walked across A1A in Daytona Beach, traveled through a strip mall, and entered Publix (that’s a grocery store chain if you’re not in the southeast). Then we walked through the store.  There were five of us, total, and three of us were blindfolded. There was someone around to check on me, but I had to rely principally on my cane. I’d been through the area we covered several times, which helped, but imagine not having that mental map to rely on. Our country, our world, is full of blind people who face such a situation on a regular basis.

My oldest daughter has retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that limits her visual field. She has about a 10-degree cone of vision and her vision is about 20/100 in that cone. With glasses she can correct it to 20/70, which helps her a small amount in some situations. We own a pair of goggles that simulates her vision. I can’t walk through our house safely with them on.

Being blind can be scary. As humans, many of us struggle with a fear of the unknown. For the blind, much of the world is unknown. Being blind, if you weren’t born blind, is full of unknowns. One of the biggest unknowns is whether people will accept you as you. This fear can limit blind people from building relationships.

I’m fortunate enough, as is my daughter, to belong to an organization dedicated to accepting blind people as they are, but helping them to change what it means to be blind. My experiences with sleep shades have come while attending the annual conference of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida. I’ve been privileged, and Heather would agree, to have met people for whom blindness is a nuisance, not a defining characteristic of their lives.

Like Heather, and many others, they have asked themselves over and over what God intended for them to do. Heather has said it often, and I hear others talk about saying it: “God, why am I blind? What purpose could my life possibly serve in this state?”

In the Bible some of the disciples asked Jesus what sins caused a man to be blind. Was it because of something his parents did? Was it something he did? Blindness could come from something the parents did or something an individual did, or could be the long-term consequence of a broken world. People have free will and God has a plan. Time and again I’ve seen blind people step out in faith, both literally and figuratively, and the result has been the glory of God.

Coincidentally(?), that was the answer Jesus gave  his disciples, that sometimes someone is blind solely that they may be the way through which God is glorified. Jesus returns the man’s sight in that passage, but God can be glorified through other ways, as well.

This weekend Heather grew a lot. She still wears the same shoes, the same clothes, but something inside her changed. She got involved in her blindness. She joined, and subsequently was elected to the board of, the Florida Association of Blind Students. She voted in NFBF elections. She listened to speakers talk about overcoming blindness to achieve success, often in ways they never dreamed of. She heard, too, of people who trusted God in ways I don’t often see in similar sized groups of sighted people.

Walking in the dark is scary. Finding the light in the darkness can make a lot of difference. Do you know what it’s like to walk in the dark? Literally? Figuratively? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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