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The Hidden Joys of Blindness

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Being blind is often not fun. There are challenges and setbacks, disappointments and discouraging moments. But that’s all they are – setbacks. For the most part they are surmountable. In the year that I’ve been blind, I’m continually discovering many new joys of life that I had never noticed before, previously hidden by my vision.

While riding a Milwaukee to Chicago Amtrak for a holiday luncheon, I experienced the rich soundscape comprised of the train horn wistfully blowing as we sped through the small rural towns, the unmistakable ringing of the crossing bells, the murmur of quiet conversations around me, the conductor announcing the stops and the gentle rocking of the cars navigating the rails – that together gave me a strong sense of orientation, making me forget I was even blind. I don’t think that I had ever paid attention to these rich and colorful sensibilities before I had lost my vision. It was my first train trip since I lost my vision, and perhaps a bit ambitious, but I did it. On my own, keenly focused on my other senses, guided by my white cane and electronic navigating tools, all giving me a stronger sense of confidence and independence.

The luncheon went well, but on the return trip I got a bit disoriented in Chicago’s Union Station, causing me to miss my train. I was eventually led to the proper but crowded area, now waiting for a train not expected for another 90 minutes. With a visible disability such as blindness, reinforced by being dragged around by train station personnel, I felt embarrassingly marked as a disabled person and generally shunned. I stood alone while feeling the glances of people around me who seemed to be working hard to be invisible – even though you know they’re there, it seems like they hope someone else will step up and interact with you – as if blindness would be contagious if they got too close.

Then a miracle occurred when I was spotted by another woman, who kindly got up and offered me her seat. I thanked her, but said I could stand and wait for the train. But just then, a seat opened up next to her and I happily seated myself. She offered me some of her coffee on that frigid Chicago night, which I immediately accepted, not only because I really wanted a sip, but to acknowledge her kindness.

Her name is Peggy Anne. We talked until the train came. It turned out that her mother had been blind, thus she knew how to help a blind person without making them feel helpless or pitiful — I am not either. She asked me if I needed assistance, rather than just pulling my arms as many do. She treated me with dignity and respect and did not dwell on my blindness. We quickly became friends as we discussed a myriad of topics and solved many global issues together. We realized we had a lot in common – from life tragedies to blessings, a common spiritual perspective and a mutual ability to overcome life’s obstacles.

I also have a broken ankle and am not able to walk, certainly not all the way up the platform to the “disability” car in front. So I had arranged for a Red Cap, a needed service for us broken-boned blind folks. When the train arrived and started boarding, I waited patiently for the Red Cap, to no avail. Fortunately, my new friend ran out to the conductor to determine what had happened, only to find they had forgotten about the disabled person and said the train had to leave regardless. But due to her determination, she was able to flag down another Red Cap and he quickly got me onto the transport. I was also able to convince him that Peggy Anne was my “seeing-eye friend,” so he got us both onto the train just in time, where we sat together and continued to solve world problems and deepen our friendship.

True friendships are rare. Finding a friend whom you can celebrate all of their being is uncommon. If I was not blind and able to walk, I never would have met Peggy Anne – an amazing person full of kindness and joy, in a season heralded to be all about those kinds of values. I can now better understand what Helen Keller meant when she said, “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” Thank you Peggy Anne for being my friend. You have enlightened my world during this time of lights and bells, cookies and songs and peace on earth.

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Originally published: January 3, 2017
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