Blind Faith

How do you like your new sweeper? a friend asked me. Does it do a pretty good job?

I like the sweeper. Its easy to handle, and it has a longer cord than my old one, which is much better, but I have no idea if it does a good job or not. I use it, and I am barefoot when I use it, so I can tell if Ive missed something that I can feel with my bare feet, but aside from that, I have to assume that it does the job.

I have my carpets cleaned by the same company every year. Do they do a good job? I guess so. Sometimes I get a compliment on how much nicer my carpets look, after theyre cleaned, but thats all I can go on.

Do I like the way my lawn mowing guys do my yard? They show up. They run around with their big noisy mowers. I guess its okay.

Am I wearing the right shade of lipstick? Do I have too much eye makeup on? Enough? Is It smeared? I put on the makeup as carefully as I can, but how it looks is beyond my amazing talents. Once again, I must depend on others to be my human mirror. And the right shade of lipstick can varry with each observer. I havent been able to see my own face for about 50 years. How would I know what shade of lipstick looks best?

It seems that I do a lot of guessing. I depend on the opinions of others when it comes to visuals. Should I believe someone who says my house needs painting, my trees need pruning, or that I look good in blue? I guess so. What else can I do? Whether or not I act on their observations, however, is my decision.

And then there are times when I have inflicted the decision-making chore on others. I have a volunteer who takes me grocery shopping. Occasionally, I have asked her to take me shopping for household necessities. I recall the anxiety she felt when we had to pick out new linoleum for my kitchen, counter tops and cabinets. Imagine trying to describe colors and patterns to someone who doesnt really know what she wants. It was an adventure to be sure, but she held up under the pressure, and we laugh about it. Do I like my new linoleum? I dont know. It covers the bare floor, and I assume it looks all right. I have faith in her opinion. Were going out clothes shopping today. Ill tell her what I hope to find, and the rest is up to blind faith.

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Grapefruit Chili

This entry is dedicated to any of my blind friends who have ever had a disaster in the kitchen. Yesterday, I was making a big pot of chili for a church luncheon to be held at my house today. I had saut├ęd the onions and the garlic, and I had browned the meat. I had lined up all my spices, and I began opening cans of chili beans and crushed tomatoes. Because I had doubled my recipe, there were twice as many cans to deal with. I was happily emptying their contents into the pot, until I got to the last can. As I tossed what I had expected to be chili beans in with the rest, I was horrified to realize that what I had just dumped into the chili was a whole can of grapefruit. Oh, thats where that can of grapefruit had gone. I had been looking for it all week. I dont know if I was madder about the ruined chili or the ruined grapefruit.

After a whole lot of yelling and swearing, I calmly spooned the mess, by slotted spoonfuls into the crockpot, sifting out the sections of grapefruit. After adding a little more of the chili powder, I tasted the broth. Not bad, if you like grapefruit in your chili. Could I taste a slight hint of grapefruit juice, only because I knew it was there, or would it go unnoticed? There was no turning back at this point. I had invested about $15 already, and I had no way to get to the store and buy the ingredients again. I just prayed that I had managed to find each bit of fruit. And I certainly wasnt going to tell any of my guests what happened. Then they would be sure to notice the odd taste and proclaim it ahem, very interesting.

Today, as we served up the chili, I prayed, Please dont let them notice. God had smiled upon me, chuckling Himself, at my careless mistake, for everybody was enjoying the chili. I was just beginning to relax and to feel that I had gotten away with something, when one of my last spoonfuls in my own bowl held a piece of grapefruit. Oh no! I had missed one! Then I had another prayer. Please let this be the only piece I missed.

Lesson learned. Always check the contents before you dump. Another version of look before you leap. For every blind person I know, theres another story like this one. Fortunately, this one had a happy ending.

The Art of Listening

Its been said in one way or another that the best way to learn is to keep your mind open and your mouth shut. It intrigues me that too many people have not mastered the art of listening. We are often so busy thinking of the next thing we are going to say that we totally miss whole sections of the conversation. We are so busy looking at the visuals in our world, that we are unaware of the audibles, and not just the subtle ones. The art of listening is based on the skill of paying attention.

Call it skill, or call it art, but the one thing it is not is a gift.

As a blind person, Im credited with a keen sense of hearing, much better than that of sighted people. Not true. ` as I age, I am noticing a decrease in my auditory acuity. For instance, when I am in a crowded and noisy restaurant, and someone is trying to talk to me, while hundreds of others are also shouting to each other, I have difficulty hearing what was said to me. Because I cant read lips, as so many sighted people do without realizing it, dining in these restaurants is not a pleasant experience. Im realizing that my hearing is becoming 1 dimensional. I cant hear the voice of the person across from me, because it is blended into the wall of noise behind her. Having to shout to one another over your dinner seems to be trendy and chique. Restaurants these days are designed to enhance that feature. Some of the noise factor is created by the servers themselves. Recently at 2 different restaurants, The servers each greeted our table with what parents call their outside voices. In each case, the server might have been addressing a table across the room, instead of the 4 people within 4 feet of her. Did she think we were deaf? Even when we responded to her with normal inside voices, she continued to shout. Maybe she was deaf? No, I think she wasnt listening, or more accurately, paying attention.

We all know how annoying it is to encounter someone shouting into her cell phone. What is doubly annoying to me is being on the other end of that call, trying to get a word in edgewise. Some of the problem is the slight delay in delivering the audio to the other persons cell phone, but the trouble is really with the caller who doesnt take a breath or pause until after she has delivered her little speech, even if its a question. I used to try to interrupt with my answer or comment, but she doesnt hear. Ive since saved myself the frustration and now wait until she has given me the long list of multiple choice answers. For instance, instead of where would you like to go for dinner? its Where would you like to go for dinner? Would you like Mexican or Chinese or maybe Italian. Ive heard of a new place on Main Street. But maybe youd just like to get a burger. Hey! Stop! I thought this was a dialog. Even though this might sound like generalizing, Ive noticed that most blind people, as a rule, do not do that. We are more in tune with subtle audible cues, like the intake of breath when the other person is about to say something. This is not a special gift. Its just paying attention. And BTW, as any toastmaster will tell you, theres nothing wrong with a pause now and then. It gives your listener a chance to reflect on what youve said or to respond. And youd be surprised at what you will learn when youre not trying to demonstrate how much you know about a subject, prove your point with 1 example after another, or just to fill the air with the sound of your own voice. Learn to listen, and listen to learn.

Am I Really That Scary?

Am I really that scary? This is the question I ask myself each time I encounter someone who, upon discovering that I am blind, suddenly loses the power of speech and the inability to have an intelligent thought. Words are suddenly illusive, so apparently, a silent expression of terror is the default. They might as well say it out loud, OMG, shes blind! What do I do?

Am I being hypersensitive? I ask myself this question too. But in last Sundays New York Times, there appeared validation of my observations in the article, Why Do We Fear the Blind? By ROSEMARY MAHONEY.

The author, who is a teacher of students who are blind, writes about a conversation she had with an otherwise intelligent woman, who wondered how you can actually talk to a blind person. In her mind there existed a substantial intellectual barrier between the blind and the sighted. The blind could hear, yes. But could they properly understand? Its a barrier that Im continually butting my head against. It seems that I spend an inordinate amount of time, trying to prove to the world that even though my eyes dont work, my brain does. It irritates the heck out of me, each time someone infers that because Im blind, I am in the dark about the meaning of a word, a current event, what colors are, or any number of commonplace concepts, definitions, or experiences.

Ms. Mahoney goes on to say, The United States has one of the lowest rates of visual

impairment in the world, and yet blindness is still among the most feared physical

afflictions. Even in this country, the blind are perceived as a people apart. Boy, did she ever get that right. Thats why, when I am in a room full of people who are afraid to engage with me, I often feel invisible. I want to scream, Its okay to talk to me. Its not catching!

Ms. Mahoney quotes blind author Georgina Kleege, a lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley, when she said, Even the most brilliant sighted person can take a stupidly long time to recognize the obvious: There is usually a perfectly healthy, active and normal human mind behind that pair of unseeing eyes. In other words, just because the curtains are closed, it doesnt mean nobodys home.

Then, once in a while, I am blessed with an experience like the one I had last night. I was dining with friends at a restaurant, when a former client of my X-husbands came over to me and engaged me in pleasant conversation. First, I was gratified that he recognized me, after not having seen me for over 20 years. But more importantly to me, he treated me like any other old acquaintance. There was no fear, no awe, no insensitive curiosity. It was just a natural exchange of pleasantries. How refreshing. I get the same feeling of joy when a clerk in a store talks directly to me, not expecting my companion to be an interpreter. Its rare, but it does happen. For that brief time, I am not apart. I am not invisible. The barrier is down. I am not perceived as having a contagious disease, or other-worldly powers.

While everything written in that article is true, Im so thankful for times, like last night, when its not.

First day of a new year

What are you doing New Years, New Years Eve? is a line from a song that keeps running through my mind every December 31. Ive had my share of New Years Eve parties, and I cant remember a single one with fondness. Besides not being a big hoopty-do party person, there were many years I just wanted to go to bed early and greet the new Year refreshed and with a new attitude. Im a big fan of New Years Day, however. Here are some favorite ways Ive celebrated January 1.

One year, my husband and I went to one of those hotel dance parties, with the room included in the package deal. I hated the party. One of the women at our table got sloppy drunk. I couldnt sleep, because noisy partiers walking down our hall had no respect for people who might actually be sleeping in their rooms. What I did enjoy was waking up early, having a fancy breakfast, and then hurrying home to let the dogs out. Have you ever liked something because it was over? But heres the best part. We got on our big winter coats and took the 2 dogs to the golf course and let them romp around in the snow to their hearts content and to my joy in watching them enjoy life. One of the dogs was my Seeing Eye, Mindy. She had to be taught to romp around freely, because for most of her young life, she was on a leash, in harness, or otherwise under control. Sometimes you just have to let go and romp. I guess thats why people like NYE parties. One year, I ad a gathering at my house on New Years Day. After we had eaten the barbecued pork and the obligatory sour kraut, we set off for a nearby park to take a 4-mile walk. It was invigorating and far far away from televised football games.

On this NYD, my friend Dan and I walked on the Scioto Mile and around downtown Columbus. We were like tourists, noticing remarkable features of old buildings he had never seen before and I had not known about. One of the highlights of the walk was my discovery of an enormous sculpture of a gavel, outside the courthouse where the Ohio Supreme court meets. Dan encouraged me to climb up on the pedestal on which this gigantic gavel was mounted and try to guess what it was. I felt like the proverbial blind men who were asked to identify the elephant, and they all had different impressions of what it was. But we had a lot of fun, coming up with different possibilities, as I climbed higher and higher on the sculpture to touch the top. I hope nobody was taking my picture. I might have been arrested. We continued our winter city hike by surveying the deconstruction of the dam downtown, which has exposed the parts of the bridge that are normally covered by water and tons of debris and detritus that had been submerged in the filthy river. In another year or so, that area will be turned into green space with a lovely view of a clean and sparkling river. Funny, how we never ran into any other hikers. I guess the other winter-loving walkers were down at the Hocking Hills, where I spent one of my favorite NYDs. My Seeing Eye, Sherry, and I were part of a COP group who hiked 6 miles through snowy woods and over icy creeks. We had our lunches at picnic tables in a clearing. One of the bridges we had to cross had been destroyed by floods that fall, so we had to traverse over a couple of logs. I was worried that Sherry might slip off, so 1 of the guys picked her up, flung her up on his shoulders, and carried her across. She was embarrassed, but I was grateful. Later, her toes kept getting big clumps of snow clinging to her pads, and she was limping. We stopped and removed the snowballs on her feet, and she was happy again. Being with friends, enjoying a winter wonderland, and getting exercise they just cant duplicate in a gym is my kind of NYD celebration.