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

 

A Second Journey: Reformation Tour Through Edinburgh, Part 1

Note: This was meant to be posted last night, but I just got on my computer and realized that I fell asleep before I could hit the publish button, so here it is now.

Thursday afternoon, we took a bus into Edinburgh City Center and met Jimmy, our reformation tour guide, on the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is a collection of streets and buildings in the very heart of Edinburgh, from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse (which is where the queen stays when in Edinburgh).
We stopped first at the once home of John Knox. John Knox was a major figure in the Scottish reformation of the 1500s. He assisted in composing the Scottish Confession of Faith, and was part of the first general assembly that met in Edinburgh in December of 1560. He was also a champion of public education in Scotland. The corrupt Scottish branch of the Catholic church did not allow their congregations to read the Bible during this time; if the population knew what the Bible really said, they would be much less inclined to offer 50% of their income to priests and bishops who were deliberately distorting and defying God’s Word. Even if the church required each member to own a Bible though, it would have been of little use for those who could not read, or in some cases still, understand Latin. Education was essential, then, to enable the Scottish people to explore God’s written word on their own time. So John Knox, an important guy.
We passed through what would have been Edinburgh’s city gates. Two hundred years ago, these would have led into a completely separate area known as Canongate, with its own rules and tax system. We visited the tollbooth that existed to maintain these taxes and served as a courthouse and prison for the area. The 1591 building is imposing. Rough stone, with iron bars still across the windows. There was no escaping there, and it would certainly have encouraged one to pay one’s taxes on time.
From there we ventured into the church of England where Britain’s current queen still worships when in Edinburgh. From the comments of my friends, the interior was blue and red, and designed in such a way to draw the eye to the cross at the front. I thought that quite significant. It is a statement. No matter who or where we are, our eyes should always be on the cross. The queen’s seat was in one of the front pews, with a rope across it, preventing anyone from disturbing it. I did ignore the rope to touch the plush cushions placed at the queen’s seat, and the small statue of a crown that marked the back of the pew there.
Our next stop was one of my favorites both this and last year. It is a copy of Scotland’s National Covenant, a document drafted in the latter half of 1637, and originally signed by thousands in early 1638. Its aim was to reaffirm Scotland’s commitment to God, His Word, their confession of faith, and emphasized that while they were happy to accept the King as head of their country, and be loyal subjects to him, they refused to recognize him as head of the church, as only Christ could assume that role. Hundreds of copies of this document circulated throughout Scotland, and it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people put their names to them. There is no real way to be sure, as the King later had most of them destroyed, but 7 or 8 still remain, and the copy we saw Thursday has over 3000 signatures if I remember correctly.
After seeing the document itself, we visited the place where it was composed, a building which now serves as Scotland’s highest court. We were quite honored to go in, as it is not normally available for entry to tourists. We did have to turn our personal belongings over to a guard for inspection, and pass through a metal detector before coming in. Thankfully, all went smoothly.
It is a grand building with high ceilings and a roof constructed purely of timber, no nails or screws involved. It hosts an extensive library (which most of my team were druling over, home schoolers and book worms that they are), and an echoey main hall, lined with 17th century wooden benches. It is tradition that lawyers pace the length of the hall discussing the cases they are working on with one another. We saw two of them doing that very thing as we listened to Jimmy recount the history. There was also a man, dressed in similar smart fashion, talking on a mobile phone and scribbling furiously all the while. Such a strange mixture of ancient and modern.
Well, I’m afraid you’ll be spending the night in the courthouse, as I’m decidedly sleepy. Tomorrow, we shall start with the parking lot outside of the courthouse.

My Historical Romance, Mount Vernon, and the Key that Unlocks Liberty

Today, I visited the home of one of my biggest crushes of all time.  The man is everything and more a girl could ask for: tall, dashing, kind, talented, incredibly intelligent, down to earth (quite literally), and God-fearing.  The only problem is he’s 263 years my senior, and he’s already happily and beautifully married.  I shall concede to love and admire him from a distance then.

No, I am NOT talking about Edward from Twilight.  Perish the thought!  If you know anything about me at all, you should know that vampirism is NOT on my list of ideal characteristics for my future husband.

I am speaking of the honorable General George Washington, who led America to victory in the revolutionary war, oversaw the creation of the U.S. constitution, and served as our first (and undoubtedly best) president.

Washington’s Mount Vernon estate was purchased and restored by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association in the mid 1800’s, and they have been sustaining it ever since.  The remaining 500 acres of his once 8000 acre property are still furnished with the gardens, forest, fields, flowers, and livestock that Washington managed as a farmer during his lifetime.  It also features the plantation’s many buildings, including the slave quarters, carriage house, black smith, shoe shop, stables, corn crib, treading barn (for threshing wheat), mill and distillery, and of course the gorgeously restored mansion.  Washington is remembered for his incredible service and leadership for our country, but he considered himself a farmer above all other things.  He was a fantastic farmer, always employing new techniques to increase the plantation’s prosperity and productivity.  He utilized crop rotation, in order to use and reuse the fields he had already designated for crop growth, used different types of fencing in revolutionary ways, and created the ingenious treading barn, a building designed for threshing, which used the power of horses to thresh wheat in a much more efficient manner.

And then there is the mansion.

A long, symmetrical building with three sections, with covered porticos connecting them in between, the over 200 year old building is painted with a mixture of sand and paint, which gives the outside of the house the appearance of stone.  Indoors, the rooms come to vibrant life with shades of yellow, green, and red.  Much of the home is original, including paintings, furniture (Washington’s bed, and fancy rolly swivel chair), harpsichord, and china.

Another original hanging in the first floor passageway caught my attention in particular.  It is the key to the French political prison, Bastille, which Washington’s friend Marquis de Lafayette gave to George as a gift, with the words, “It is a tribute, which I owe, as a son to my adoptive father, as an Aide-de-Camp to my General, as a Missionary of liberty to its Patriarch.” – Marquis de Lafayette to George Washington, March 17, 1790 

The key to liberty given to the Father of liberty.

George Washington dedicated his entire life to the service of his country, to protecting and preserving liberty, but even more than that, he dedicated his soul to Christ.  Washington was a Godly man, and found the idea of freedom first in being freed from sin.  That is what inspired him to be the magnificent leader, farmer, husband, human he became.  George Washington reflected well the sort of CHrist-like love, courage, and humility that we all strive for in our walk with GOd.  God, Washington’s leader, is the ultimate father of all life and liberty, and Christ is the key.  Knowing that, I am inspired indeed, and have fallen in love with two marvelous men all over again—George Washington, and more even than him, the true key to liberty, our Savior Jesus Christ.

 

Thank you to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association for the information on the website, and the wonderful tour at the Mount Vernon estate.

(By the way, fun fact: Washington set his slaves free shortly before his death.  He truly did value freedom for all people.)