I was Blind, but Now I See

Reading The Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks. Am always struck by how different one person’s interpretation of a book can differ from another’s. Books always set me off on a tangent, following the threads that they evoke. I remember lying awake all night after reading A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, entranced at the notion that perhaps time was an accident, which is certainly not what the book said, but took me on a fascinating byway.

There’s so much in The Mind’s Eye, these men.but at the moment I am fascinated by two accounts of men going blind and their totally different reactions. When a sense like sight is lost, then those neurons look for other activity. They don’t just hang out, fallow. What is interesting is that conscious choice was also involved with
these men.

John Hull, an English professor, started going blind at 13 and was finally completely blind at 48. For him, this meant not only being unable to see, but losing the whole concept of vision, where “here” is, for example. He couldn’t recall his wife’s face or a place he loved. He surrendered to what he called “deep blindness” – and found a newer, deeper world through his heightened remaining senses. The visual neurons were working to enhance hearing, touch and smell. It was his “dark, paradoxical gift.” With it, Sacks writes, “his writing became stronger and deeper; he became intellectually bolder and more confident.”

That makes such sense to me – at a very deep level, because with pain, so many doors have closed, but paradoxically, I feel deeply content, more aware, questing and fulfilled than ever before. My pain brings a depth to my understanding of others, a new way of looking at life. So, when my cousin exclaimed, “Jane, your life is not worth living,” my answer was wrung from my depths. “Oh, Ann, it is so worth living!”

The second man, Zoltan Torey, an Australian psychologist, took a different route. He deliberately cultivated a virtual replacement world. He wrote to Sacks, “I immediately resolved to find out how far a partially sense-deprived brain could go to rebuild a life.” So he worked with his memory and imagination to keep a visual world alive. So successfully that he was able to repair his own roof!

What stands out to me here is the immense power and scope of choice. Two men with a similar handicap who crafted two diverse but rich futures. I always think that courage and determination are not only inspirational, but also build the common human soul. When just one of us reaches greatness of spirit, in some measure, so do we all. A sort of Olympics of the soul.

Further reading:

Touching the Rock: an Experience of Blindness by John Hull.

Out of Darkness by Zoltan Torey.


About UntraveledRoads

Fascinated by life, looking for answers to chronic pain and finding unexpected gifts. Interested in people, ideas, healing and humour. I am very happily married with three children and a kitten. As English born immigrants to Canada, we have family spread overseas, a daughter in South Africa and one in England. We also run a charity in South Africa to educate black, rural South African Women. Our first girl from a rural township has just graduated as an accountant from Johannesburg University and got a good job in a bank.
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