Thankful for a Voice | A Blind Girl Speaks Out!

I don’t really know what happened.  I wasn’t that sick, but suddenly my voice just sort of left me, and a painful cough took its place.  For the last four days, I’ve been on strict vocal rest, which is difficult for a singer and a socializer.  I didn’t think about how it would impact my interactions with the public, however.

“I’m outside Panera.” I whispered into the phone, because that’s all I could manage.

“You’re where?  I can’t really hear you.”

“Outside the doors of the Panera!” I tried again, “I have a guide dog and I’m wearing a black coat.”

“Oh, I think I see you.  You have a dog?”

“Yes!” I replied, relieved that even if he hadn’t heard me he found me and I didn’t have to wait much longer in the 15 degree weather.

I got in the Lyft and got home, thank God, but my vocal issues had made it incredibly difficult to communicate with my driver to tell him where I was.

A similar thing happened a day later.  A gracious friend of mine volunteered to drive me to the pet store to pick up some emergency dog food for Prim.  We entered the pet store, and I was immediately struck by my hindered ability to scold my guide dog for trying to chase the cat she saw upon entry.  Turns out whispered commands to your dog to “leave it” when there is a cat right in front of their nose is really not that effective.

The kicker, though, was when we stopped at CVS on the way back to collect some soup and cough drops and other such necessary items.  Prim followed my friend into and throughout the store like a champ, and we found the things we needed without too much trouble.  When we arrived at the counter, I set my items down and waited as the cashier scanned them.

“Do you live with her?” The lady asked my friend.

“No, just a friend.” She replied.

“She agreed to drive me around tonight.” I added with a smile, though I felt my smile falter a little when I realized what had come out of my mouth was barely recognizable as spoken word.

“Who takes care of her then?”

“I take care of me.” I answered, patiently, still in a whisper.

“She said she takes care of herself.” The cashier observed in shock to my friend, and then to one of her coworkers as we left.

Yes, madam, that is what I said.  I take care of myself.  She clearly found that hard to believe, since I am blind.

I desired desperately to educate her.  I wanted to tell her that, not only do I care for myself, but I care for my guide dog, and sometimes, when necessary, my sighted friends too.  I wanted to say that blind people can live quite independently, with the right training and techniques.  I wanted to tell her that I’d been living on my own 12 hours drive from my family for almost 5 years now, since I moved to Tennessee at 18.  I wanted to tell her I’ve traveled internationally by myself three times, and within the U.S. hundreds of times… that I’d been white-water rafting, and rock climbing, and hiking, and horseback riding, and kayaking and jet skiing, and spelunking, and I’d sung, danced, and acted in operas and plays and musicals, had a bachelor’s degree, and was planning on moving internationally for a master’s.

But I couldn’t say any of that because I couldn’t talk.

I’ve been blind for 16 years now.  I’m pretty used to comments like the ones I heard at CVS last night.  I’ve learned to say something, but once that’s done, it’s all I can do.  Eventually, I just have to let it go and allow my life to be the proof, but I felt robbed of that power yesterday, of my ability to advocate through speech.  It upset me, but mostly it made me thankful that, on the regular day-to-day, I do have a voice.  I can speak up to defend my own freedom of independence and the freedom of other blind people to live the lives they want.  I can share my experiences and challenge a sighted world to raise their expectations for the blind.

Not only do I have a voice on an individual, physical level, but also on a macro, socio-political-economic level.  As an American citizen with first amendment rights to free speech, I can write articles like these to spread the word throughout this entire vast country that blind people ARE capable.  I can vote for policy and policy makers that I think will advance the rights and privileges of blind Americans.  I can show employers that there is a valuable workforce of competent, passionate people that are currently being largely ignored because of their blindness.  I can tell our nation that blind people are a people without physical sight, but not a people without vision, or drive, or ingenuity, or skill, or, as I’m pointing out here, a voice.

Today is January 4th, a day many in the blind community know as Louis Braille’s birthday.  Braille should have been as life changing to the blind as the invention of the printing press was for the sighted a few hundred years earlier.  I say “should have been”, because while Braille’s invention did a great deal to change the state of blind people, and loose them from the chains of poverty and dependency, it hasn’t done enough.  According to a study from Cornell University, only 42% of visually impaired Americans ages 21-64 were employed in 2015, and that is a high estimate given that the associated unemployment rate did not account for those blind Americans who were not actively participating in the workforce (Erickson).  The National Federation of the Blind reports that 29% of the same population in the same year were living under the poverty line (Statistical Facts About Blindness in the United States), as compared to 13.5% in the general population (United States Census Bureau).  Those statistics start to paint a picture of the devastating impact that negative perceptions of blindness have on our success and thriving as a segment of society.

I’m tired of being told I can’t, and I’m thankful that I have a voice to reply, “I can, I do, and I will!”

 

Works Cited:

Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. “Disability Statistics.” The American Community Survey (ACS), Cornell University Yang-Tan Institute, 2017, Ithaca, NY, http://www.disabilitystatistics.org/reports/acs.cfm?statistic=2

“Statistical Facts About Blindness in the United States.” NFB, National Federation of the Blind, 12/2017, nfb.org/blindness-statistics

United States Census Bureau. “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2016.” Report Number: P60-259, Jessica L. Semega, Kayla R. Fontenot, and Melissa A. Kollar, U.S. Census Bureau, Sept. 12, 2017, http://www.census.gov/library/publications/2017/demo/p60-259.html

 

Thankful for Apple Cider | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 9

Y’all, I had no idea apple cider was not a thing in the UK, and as someone considering to go to grad school somewhere in Europe, this very much concerns me!

I am speaking of the non-alcoholic, spiced apple-juice, often served hot during the fall and early winter months, available in powdered mixes to be added to water, or Keurig cups, or sometimes the good fresh kind you get straight from the apple orchard. You’re telling me Britain doesn’t even have the powdered packets??? How can you even enjoy fall!

I’m just saying, I feel really passionate about this, and if and when I travel to Ireland for grad school, I am bringing apple cider with me.  Fear not Europe.  Ye shall know apple cider yet!

Thankful for Dissatisfaction | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 8

Generally in the job search process, I have tried to remain positive, but it’s very difficult.  There is so little I can control, and what I can control is unrewarding.  My days are a monotonous cycle of work with little return.  Sure, I get the occasional interview, but what good is an interview if I don’t get the job?

I find that I am remarkably unsatisfied… my work feels meaningless… there are thousands of hurting people out there I could be helping right now… and instead I’m sitting in my living room, filling out application after application with no results, just to feed myself and pay for an apartment?  Chores and meals feel like a waste of time too.  I know I need to eat, and do laundry, and clean my bathroom, but that’s an hour or two or five I could have devoted to the search, and maybe those hours could have been what I needed to be employed now.  Keeping in touch with family and friends is easier than it used to be as a crazy busy college student, but I also feel like I can’t be the sister, daughter, friend I want to be because I’m strapped for money, worried about becoming a burden, and slowly losing every bit of confidence I used to have in myself and my talents because I’ve tried my best, and it hasn’t gotten me anywhere.

And then I turn to my Bible, and remember everything IS meaningless…

without God.

“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity”, observes Solomon in Ecclesiastes.  “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?”

Solomon goes on to examine all of the things that might give a man satisfaction… riches, fame, eating and drinking, hard work, but decides that “all is vanity and a striving after wind”.  So, turns out even if I had a job, it would still be meaningless.

His final conclusion, though, is not the bleak reality one would expect.  Rather, he says, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, ESV).

All is vanity and a striving after wind, until we acknowledge that we were designed to live as servants of the Lord on high, our creator and life-giver.

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17).

I’m so unsatisfied with my earthly life right now… I hate job searching, and I hate feeling useless, but I am thankful for the way God is using my dissatisfaction here to find my satisfaction in Christ and Christ alone.

“Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup.  You make my lot secure.” (Psalm 16:5)

“For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” (Psalm 107:9)

Thankful for Tears | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 7

I read the news.

I know, that probably doesn’t seem like a blog-worthy bit of information, but hear me out.  I read the news, and I cried for the first time in months.

I could go on a rant about how I shouldn’t have read the news, because it’s all so negative, and that’s the worst thing to do while you are already in a delicate frame of mind, but actually, I was thankful.  It was a relief, in one way, just because I hadn’t felt that emotional release for so long, and in another way, because it meant that I wasn’t so callous to the news negativity that I didn’t feel anything.  Pain, even excruciating pain can be difficult to endure, but apathy must not be.

It reminds me of that old Three Days Grace song… “I’d rather feel pain than nothing at all”.  Those lyrics used to leave me a little sad.  Where must a person be in life to actually desire pain?  But as I consider the alternative, I realize that some part of it makes a good deal of sense.  As one commentator I read today observed of the recent shooters in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, the gunmen are not usually wild, raging men wielding firearms.  They are emotionless, cold killers who murder six-month-olds as easily as swatting an annoying fly, and perhaps with even less interest.

I don’t want to be a part of that apathy.  No matter how many times I hear of these tragedies, I want to feel it, really feel it, and grieve with those who have lost their loved ones.  I don’t want to be caught up in the crowd of hungry gossipers, waiting to tear like scavengers at the details of every ghastly attack, snatching at sound bites like the seagulls of Finding Nemo, crying “mine! Mine! Mine!”, hoping to prove some political point or other, quickly forgetting that there are children without parents, parents without children, and siblings without brothers or sisters.  Of course policy is important, but when we leap immediately to political debate, I think in one way we join the emotionless killer in his apathy.

That is why today, I am thankful for tears.

Thankful for Accessible Technology | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 6

Sometimes, it’s fun to envision what life would have been like a hundred or more years ago.  Imagine a life without digital media, for example, or consider how different transportation was when cars had only just been invented.  What interests me, though, is how life must have been different for the blind.

Some blind people did live independently, had children, and held jobs, like the famous hymn writer Fanny Crosby.  But what was it like?

On the one hand, I’m a bit jealous.  Any society before the invention of cars must have been a great deal more pedestrian friendly, and therefore, blind-friendly, even in the absence of modern infrastructure.  On the other hand, I wonder how blind people managed without ways to independently access printed materials around them, or easily produce them on their own.

I’ve written a few songs in my time—it’s hard to avoid when you live in music city—but Fanny Crosby had over 8000 hymns published!  Then, she would have had to memorize all of her texts and music, written it down in braille and had it transcribed, dictated it to a sighted person to pen them, or penned them herself.  Of course, the only way she could have accessed them again would be through her memory, braille, or a sighted reader.  Evidently, her memory was impeccable.  According to the website I referenced earlier, she memorized five chapters of the Bible a week.

I definitely do not exercise my memory quite that often or to that extent, so perhaps that’s another advantage that antiquity has over modernity for blind folk.  Otherwise, I’m thankful that now a days, accessible technology means that I can easily record music (even as I write it) on my phone, type the lyrics into my computer, review what I have written, and share them with sighted friends, all independently and with very little extra effort on my part.

I am especially thankful for the way assistive tech has made the bible available to the blind in a way it never has been before.  I don’t have to carry volumes and volumes of braille bibles around with me to have constant access to the word of God, nor do I have to have it read to me and memorize five chapters a week, though there’s no doubt that would be a profitable exercise.  But no.  All I have to do is have a charged iPhone with a wifi connection, safari or a bible app, and voila.  The whole word of God is at my fingertips…

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18)

He has made his word known to us, and not only known, but accessible for study, teaching, comfort, evangelism, truth.  Accessible technology means I, along with other blind people, get to behold the wondrous things of his law by myself, on my own time, in essentially whatever format I choose, and whichever book or verse I prefer to study.  I do not think there is any more valuable gift.

And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. (Isaiah 42:16)

Thankful for Today | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 5

Last night, my roommate and I awoke several times to security alerts from Vanderbilt University, informing us that there were two active shooters in the area, and updating us on the status of the incidents.  Fortunately only one person was injured, but I still felt rather like I was taking my life into my hands when I stepped out my door to head to church.

That feeling was only amplified when my normally bubbly, confident guide dog started showing sudden and severe signs of anxiety on the walk to and into our church building.  She had never behaved that way before, so after trying and failing to get her settled for the morning service, I decided to forego church and take my dog home to make sure she was all right.  She was utterly normal on the walk home and in other outings throughout the day, so I’m not sure what triggered the episode, but upon hearing the news of the church shooting in Texas, I couldn’t help wondering whether Prim was sensing something I couldn’t.  I admit, such an idea wanders a bit too far into the field of superstition for my taste, but the important thing about it was it, combined with the news of the last 24 hours left me feeling rather restless.  People always site statistics, but statistics didn’t help the victims in Orlando, or Las Vegas, or Sutherland Springs.  Thus, I was very thankful when my roomies arrived safely home from church, and remained safe as we went about our daily business.

None of our days are promised.  As Proverbs 27:1 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”

What if I were a member of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs?  What if I had gone to church, expecting like I usually do that I would go home afterward, laugh with my roommates, play with my dog, cook for the week, make calls to my loved ones… expecting that every one of my church family would return a week later to worship like always.  But, we can’t expect that.  We cannot boast about tomorrow… so we might as well be thankful for today, and do our utmost to serve the God who gave it to us.

To that end, here is a link to the Facebook page of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs.  There is a donate button there and a link to their official website.  If you feel called, I’m sure your gift would be welcomed.

Thankful for Burnt Rolls | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 4

I’ve always wanted to know what it feels like to host a big celebration, like Thanks Giving or Christmas.  It sounds like so much work, and I couldn’t imagine how I could ever prepare for that many people with that much food to make and that many dishes to clean up afterward… and yet, it seems like it would be fulfilling… to know how much you contributed to the success of an event that brought loved ones together when they might not have otherwise been together, and formed memories that might not otherwise have been formed.

My suite mates and I got a small taste of what that might be like this weekend.  We hosted “Friends Giving”, my roommates tradition with a couple college friends.  Here’s what I learned from the whole experience.

1. Very little goes as planned.

A: Turns out most grocery stores don’t have thanks giving turkeys until a bit closer to thanks giving, so we settled on mixed rotisserie turkey and chicken.

B: I made one batch of rolls that turned out wonderfully, then put the next batch in only to come back 10 minutes later with them burnt to a crisp.  My buds didn’t realize that if you turn the oven knob one way, it turns on the oven, and if you turn it the other way, it turns on the broiler.  Whoops.

C. We planned to eat at 6:00 Pm.  I think we sat down around 7:30.  Hahaha.

2. Decorations are Worth it!

One of our friends brought pumpkins, gourds, and pretty fall leaves to brighten our dinner table.  I grew up in a family that wasn’t too fussed about getting out decorations of any kind, except for the tree and lights at Christmas and the occasional wreath, so it’s kind of a novel idea to me to decorate for Thanks Giving, but I love it and have decided to adopt the tradition.

3. It’s fun to cook with other people.

If I were doing all the cooking on my own, there’s no doubt prepping a holiday feast would be enormously overwhelming, but having the opportunity to prepare a meal as a group effort was so wholesome and satisfying.  Sure, it was crowded, loud, hot, and all of us were tripping over dogs who had appointed themselves cleanup crew for the kitchen floor, but we were also talking, laughing, singing along to country music, helping each other when we needed an extra hand or spice or tool that someone else had been using, and every bit of that added to the flavor of the food we sat down to hours later.  I think, in a very dim and modern way, it reflected the way the pilgrims and Indians must have felt in feasting together after so much hard work at that New England meal hundreds of years ago.

So, today, I am thankful for burnt rolls, and crowded kitchens, and a delicious meal with friends and food aplenty.