by Larry P. Johnson
Reprinted from “The San Antonio Express-News,” March 5, 2016.
(Editor’s Note: Larry Johnson is an author and motivational speaker. You can contact him via e-mail at [email protected], or visit his website at www.mexicobytouch.com.)
Over the course of my 80-plus years, I have been asked hundreds of questions about my blindness. Some of them have been, to me, embarrassingly trivial like: How do you brush your teeth? Feed yourself? Tie your shoes? But, if I perceive that the person asking these questions has a genuine interest, I will take the time to patiently explain, because they possibly may know someone who is blind who has not yet mastered these simple tasks.
Other questions may relate to travel, technology or information access. What special assistance do you require when traveling to another city? Do you use a smartphone or a computer? What is different about them? How do you keep up with what’s going on at city council or in Congress? (The truth is that sometimes, I think, we’re better off not knowing.) (Smile)
Then, occasionally, an intelligent young person will pose some very provocative questions which will cause me to pause and really go inside my mind to find the answers. Such was the case not long ago when an art student named Sheryl, the granddaughter of a friend, put forward the following queries.
As a blind person, what are some intangible concepts that you would like to experience? My answer to her was: For those of us who have no or very limited vision, it is difficult for us to perceive the magnitude and beauty of horizons, sunsets, sunrises, stars and rainbows. Their vastness and kaleidoscopic brilliance I find impossible to comprehend.
Her next question was: What are some objects that you have had interaction with, but not experienced? Like the inside of a light bulb, you can hold the actual bulb, but not the light or the filament that produces the light. Well, Sheryl, actually it is quite easy to feel the inside of a light bulb. All you have to do is smash the glass, and I have done that. There are, however, other things, like fireworks, a dance performance or an air show – which are more difficult to be fully experienced by a blind person.
Her third question: What is something that you haven’t been able to experience to its fullest? Ah, there are so many: a Russian ballet, the view from an airplane flying over the countryside, the brilliantly beautiful geometry of a cut diamond, a Rembrandt painting, the magic and mystery shown in a loved one’s eyes.
Her final question, which revealed her having some prior knowledge of blind people, via her grandpa: What are some things that you experience but in a completely different way than that of sighted people? I replied, blind people see best through touch. So I believe we perceive more, appreciate more and can enjoy more the tactile aspects of a hand-made quilt, the soft silkiness of a kitten, the intricate design, shape and texture of a piece of sculpture.
I hope that these responses to Sheryl were helpful and I hope that they may also provide you with a better understanding and perspective of how I, as a blind person, see the world. Yes, that’s how I see it.