“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” Henry David Thoreau
My son Louie is 18 years old and lives with blindness. Recently he was speaking to a school group of a couple of hundred kids. The kids asked all kinds of questions about blindness, what it’s like, and bullying – but two questions stood out from the rest. One 7th grader asked “It sounds like you have a great life, has blindness been all good for you?” and an 8th grade student asked “Would you trade your blindness for full vision today, if you could?”
These are important questions – but questions that don’t come up in the daily living at the McGee house. Yes, we’re open about talking about blindness, feelings, and the future. But those middle school students cut right through and asked some key questions I wished I had asked.
Louie responded to the question of blindness being a good thing, by focusing on perspective. Louie reminded the students that we are all dealt challenges in life. While blindness makes his life more difficult, other kids also face challenges in dealing with mental health issues or physical disabilities. These things can offer you a chance to change your perspective, learn to do something in a new way, and help create in you something that is uniquely you. Not to diminish the difficulties of mental and physical challenges – there are days / weeks / months that are REALLY hard, but instead choosing to find the strength to discover new ways to get beyond the hard stuff.
But that second question – would you trade your blindness for sight? All of the sudden, it was a one-two punch. I sat there and thought – “yes, it’d be awesome if he could have full vision right now.” But Louie didn’t answer it that way. Sure, I know he’d like to have his vision back, but he chose to focus on something else. Louie explained that his blindness is part of who he is. He told them they need to be comfortable with who they are. For now, he isn’t focusing on wishing that away, but instead he is happy to be able to use the challenges he faces to help others find their own path.
Those two questions kept me up that night. How did it all square with the 13 years our family has worked to raise money to find a cure for this disease? What about everyone who says “I’m sorry” when I share the story of Louie’s blindness? After all, blindness is scary – Pew Research says “Blindness is the third most feared physical condition after only Cancer and AIDS.” And it scares me.
I continue to learn – from both the people he speaks to and the answers Louie shares. The way I see it, Louie is teaching me a lesson on perspective. We all face serious challenges at times in our lives. While we hope to resolve those challenges, by choosing to find what’s possible along the way, you can open doors to opportunity.
“I’ll figure it out” Louie McGee
photo credit Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Blind Beggar Woman Paul Strand 1916