Friday, March 19, 2010

Words define and guide us

“I, personally, prefer to use the word "sight" rather than "vision" because one can possess much vision with no sight; while the converse results in sighted people who are by no stretch of the imagination, visionaries. Blindness, to whatever degree, is simply the absence of sight; vision is quite another matter.”

- Chet Smalley, Blindness and mobility specialist, Erie, PA.

A few days ago, I was asked to participate in a survey of a doctoral student at Louisiana Tech University because my mobility specialist thought that I could “contribute positively” to this research. I was reminded of how far I had come from that covert, secretly-out-of-my-element, ha-ha, sorry-so-clumsy-today young woman. Few knew then that I struggled with Retitinitis Pigmentosa, a progressive eye disease robbing me of my sight. Today - one year later to the day - I use a cane, smile a lot and can speak openly about my RP.

However, my ever-vigilant mobility instructor alerts me to language in my speech that he believes holds me back from becoming the best that he knows I can be. The other day, he pinpointed something in my correspondence to him that made me realize he had my best interest at heart. He said, "You, for example, Amy, still think of your blindness as a "condition" rather than one of your many characteristics." I had said that I wanted to befriend a young woman I knew of who had RP. I felt she was avoiding the meeting and concluded that it was probably "a little frightening [for her] to think of meeting another person with vision problems."

He was quick to respond, "Look at the language you are using: the words "vision" and "problem." "Problem" is the use, in my view, of deficit language. "Blind" can also be construed as a "deficit" word until one becomes acquainted with blind people who are productive, happy and well-adjusted to their blindness. Blind people by the thousands are demonstrating that the world need not be interacted with just by way of sight."

Chet went on to say that "blindness when perceived as a characteristic, instead of a "disability" can become just one component of an otherwise fulfilled person." I realized when I read his words that although I had made progress on this continuum of accepting myself as blind, I still had a journey before I would be comfortable thinking of blindness as simply another characteristic of myself. I wonder how one gets to that point?

Chet believes it is through immersion cane training and exposure to positive role models that enables one to truly adjust. He points out that "adjusting to blindness means living that to which one is hoping to adjust; and "living" can only be accomplished, well, by "living!" That makes sense, in theory. If using my cane becomes so second nature that I do see my blindness simply as another characteristic and not the defining characteristic of myself, will I have arrived at the understanding he envisions for me?

It is this question I grapple with now. If I intend to positively impact the lives of the blind students I envision myself teaching, then I must be certain that I have the best understanding of who I am with my unique capabilities and characteristics. This identity Chet describes has to come from within myself. It's not something I can put on or take off at random.

The question returns: how do I reduce a "condition" to simply one of many characteristics that makes me up? As always, God provides me with the answer.

In the book of Colossians, Paul exhorts his Christian brethren, "We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding." (Col 1:9) This tells me that we have brothers and sisters who pray for this very thing in our lives. We have been told to ask God for wisdom, and assured that He will provide it for whatever need we have in our lives. Whether our application comes from an extended training session and advice through knowledgeable people, it is God that unveils the source and opportunities to us.

God has made me for many purposes, and if I choose to walk by my defining characteristic, my love for Him, then He will make everything clear in His perfect timing. As I grow and adjust to this continuum of blindness God has allowed me to go through, He will place markers along the way to guide me. I believe Chet’s attention to my “deficit” language is such a marker.

Paul goes on to say, "And we pray this [wisdom and understanding] in order that you might live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God..."(Col 1:10). Has he chosen for me to bear fruit in a new capacity now? I am so excited!

Lord, I lift you up! When I first became a teacher, I didn't believe I had the characteristics to be successful, and yet You have carried me through all my doubts. You have never given up on me. You have brought me to many peaks in my life, and shouldered my fears. As a result, I have moved ahead in my language teaching with foreign students. This has put me in a pivotal position to share your love in over thirty-three countries!

I know that every experience we go through prepares us to serve in bigger capacities. If it’s Your plan to change my teaching population and goals, bring everything I need to know to light so that I might bear fruit in my life, and bring You glory.

Thank you, Lord that even as my "sight" diminishes, You will continue to magnify my “vision.”

1 comment:

  1. Right on amy, especially for us short-sighted. i was looking in the epistle of James for the reference to 'if any of you lack wisdom --ask for it?? and found 3:17 "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreted, full of mercy and good fruits without partiality and without hipocrisy." Amen..