I round the corner with my cart a little sharply, I admit. I am overtired and not paying as much attention as I should, but I also simply don’t see her cart, which I hit ever so slightly with my own.It isn’t much of an impact – just the clang of metal on metal, no harm done, but when I look up she sighs at me. It is such an exasperated look on her face that when I say I am sorry I add that I am blind in one eye, my peripheral vision gone on the left side and that I simply didn’t see her cart. What happens next is something I could have never predicted.
She hisses in almost a whisper: “I am so tired of people making excuses for their mistakes”, and she glides off with her cart, her vision intact even if her humanity is suspect.I can’t help it. I might be in the chips and pop aisle at a grocery store but I am so angry, so incensed, that I call out after her retreating figure. I am in some sense not proud of what I said, but in some ways I am proud of it, too.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” I almost shout, to the shock of the other person in the aisle who eyes me with some degree of alarm. I have just begun my shopping but I am so shaken I abandon my cart right there and head to the parking lot. You see I know what is wrong with me – I am blind in one eye due to a common virus that 90% of adults carry dormant in their body but that in mine ran amuck 15 years ago leading to a cascade of problems eventually resulting in my blindness. And while I know what is wrong with me I simply do not know what is wrong with people like her.I have heard other stories of this kind, too, people being told they need to stop using their medical issues as “excuses”, that they should just “get over” whatever disability they are struggling with. It is stunning to me that anyone could feel this way and could think that someone like me would choose partial blindness and the subsequent fallout, like an inability to perceive the depth of stairs and a constant feeling of vague unsteadiness.
Most people, when told about my blindness, are sympathetic and some are even intrigued enough to want to hear the story of a common virus that led to glaucoma, a corneal perforation, an operation to seal it with medical-grade crazy glue and my likely eventual corneal transplant. At the worst people are indifferent – but the reaction of the woman in the store enraged me in a way few things do, because while she likely has good vision now it may not always be that way. Some day she may be the one who loses a limb, goes deaf or loses her vision – and what then? Will she continue to be as unsympathetic to herself as she apparently is to others? Or will she hope people will understand that her disability is something with which she must contend but that on occasion may change the way she sees and experiences the world?The reality is that my vision loss is hopefully temporary. There is reason for optimism, and with a corneal transplant I may one day see the world again with my left eye, clearly and in sharp focus. But it has been through the loss of my vision in that eye that I have begun to truly see. I began to see things I had not seen before, the world from the eyes of someone who notices things like stairs that are not clearly marked and a hazard. But I also began to see through the eyes of someone who struggles with a chronic health issue, one affecting my daily life and existence. I am blind in one eye, it seems, but I can see with a clarity I have never had before.
To the woman in the store: I still don’t know what is wrong with you. I know I hope you never experience what I have, and I know I am genuinely grateful that you are a rarity in this world where most people express compassion instead of condemnation for things we cannot control and that happen to us, not because we have chosen them. I know what is wrong with me. I am blind in one eye. But my real vision – the one that counts – is crystal clear.