Professor Reynolds inspired me by his example, to give of my time and abilities in service to others. His tireless work for the blind also brought to my attention the issues that blind people face every day and made me wonder what it would be like to be blind. So I devised a short three day experiment to cover my eyes and live as a blind person might. I’ve written about this experiment in a short article entitled “Reflections on Three Days of Blindness”, which includes my journal entries and some commentary for anyone interested in greater detail. I’ll just include here, a few of the main points from that article, as they relate to this narrative.
The means of making myself blind were simple and very effective. First, I covered my eye sockets with cotton balls. Next, I covered over the cotton balls with large gauze pads, and then I used surgical tape to tape down all of the edges of the pads to my face, sealing entirely around the pads which covered my eyes. Lastly, I put on sunglasses. This last step was entirely for cosmetic and reasons of vanity, because, after the first two steps I couldn’t perceive even the tiniest trace of light, shade or shadow, so the sunglasses were completely redundant and superfluous.
During my three day experiment I kept a detailed journal using my typewriter: tracking my activities, my thoughts and feelings, and my conclusions. The portions in italics are from the journal I kept while doing the experiment:
Prelude to Day One of My Experiment with Three Days of Blindness:
“Awaiting blindness, Friday night, February 12, 1988. 11:00pm. is something
like what I imagine awaiting one’s execution might be like. As I wait, I try
to indulge my senses as one who was about to die might enjoy and cling to his
last meal, or his final breath. I’m scared, even though it isn’t permanent. A dark,
dark prison is what it might be like, or maybe it’s really a doorway to a greater
consciousness, a larger freedom. Who knows—I don’t. I’m writing this before
my evening reading and meditation which, when I’m done, will be followed by
covering my eyes for the duration of three days—a relatively short time but
enough time, I think, to glimpse into the world of darkness, to somewhat
feel what it is like not to see. I will uncover my eyes on Monday the 15th at sun-
set, on the hill overlooking my home and surrounding neighborhood. Until
then these pages will be written by a seeing man who doesn’t see. Or does
Day One of My Experiment with Three Days of Blindness:
“I am feeling very frustrated. There are so many things I can’t do. I am constantly
running into things or knocking them over. I’ve broken a glass and spilled a lot
of water today. Victories include riding my unicycle around the block and walk-
ing around Safeway to get some whipped cream. In both cases, I was accompan-
ied by my good friend, Nicole. However, I felt very isolated at the grocery store.
I can’t help but feel that people with handicaps aren’t liked by those without them.”
Looking at this entry and remembering back to that grocery store visit, I can still recall a sense that I had of being looked at in a way that felt like unkindness, and even though I couldn’t see them, I felt that people were uncomfortable with my presence.
“Vision. It is important to imagine and to create images to compensate in a
way for what I can’t see. To be able to picture in my mind what my surround-
ings look like is crucial. I wonder what people who were born blind can picture?
I bet a lot of their imaginings, their images, are better than our reality. I wonder
if they would be let down to really see. To get a good look at the pollution in the
air above Santa Rosa and the disgusting trash that lines every road and even
invades the innocence of my hill. No, I bet they would love to see even that.”
“Memory also plays an important role in my blindness. It goes hand in hand
with visualization. Remembering where things are and how they are organized.
In the kitchen I visualize the counter, set down my glass, walk to the stove, turn
the knob one-quarter turn to the right, crack the eggs and cut the tofu…do I
remember where the seasoning is located? Yes, it is in the front of the rotating
dolly on the shelf above me. Add it to the eggs and tofu already cooking, return
to the counter…remember, and save the glass that I left there…forget, and break
it. I’ve done both today.
Visualize the toothpaste going onto the toothbrush. Good. Do I remember what
my mom looks like? Yes, of course, it hasn’t been that long, but if I was blind
for a long time I would wish that someone would care, and understand enough
to ask me to tell them what she looks like. Or ask me to describe a banana, and
to explain what green is and where it is found. I mustn’t forget and neither
should anyone else.”
Day Two of My Experiment with Three Days of Blindness:
“I try to smell the flowers I got for Valentine’sDay today but I can’t smell either; I’ve got a cold. I try covering my ears for a moment—complete darkness and silence. No way! That is intense, I don’t want to try that. I’m glad I can hear, the music gives me power. I can feel powerful listening to the music. It fills me with some kind of reality—communication. Not with eye contact, but through the voice. Music is the same whether you can see or not.”
This entry reminds me how important communication and sharing together is to our mental and emotional health. It is easy to take for granted, while we have it so available to us, but when we are deprived of the opportunity to communicate and share, even silently perhaps as we sit together in a room listening to music, the isolation we can feel is very intense and demoralizing. I expect we all know someone in an isolated place, in a convalescent home hoping for a visitor, or shut-in at home for health reasons, or just socially unable to relate with others very well. There are so many cases and so many opportunities for those of us who are enjoying our healthy lives to reach out and communicate with those who aren’t enjoying the same state of wholeness and who need our communication.
Now it is their need, but it will likely be us someday, in the future, that will be in need, and I can assure you, when that time comes, we will hope that somebody cares enough, and has thought enough about this, to reach out and communicate with us when we are alone, or blind, or shut in. The truth is we are all in this together, we are all of the same fabric, the same blood, two sides of the same coin, and we need to care for one another with the same concern we give ourselves.
Day Three of My Experiment with Three Days of Blindness:
“I’m still blind. This is the last day. Tonight I take the bandages off. I’ve been having
the most beautiful images in my head. They are so colorful and vivid. Pictures of
skies drawn along by the tails of eagles. Illuminated rock walls, shimmering golden
alongside the deep reds of fallen leaves. An eagles head stares me in the eyes, a
faint vision before me. A translucent image but strong and full; it comforts me
and calms me. Another eagle swoops down out of the sky. Full, thick cumulous
clouds in pastel colors, things I’ve never seen in this way before. I hope I still
see these things after I regain my other sight. These new visions are wonderful
although I still run into walls.
Yesterday I went to the beach with mom. We drove up to Goat Rock near Jenner.
It was a great day. The sun was warm and the kids of the beach were having fun.
The sounds of the beach travelled so well, I could hear things a hundred feet
away as if they were right beside me. The crackling of a plastic bag, the shuffling
of the sand by a walking seagull, and the roar of the ocean. The birds are chirping
right now outside my window and a plane is flying overhead. It is still morning. My
breath is calm and rhythmic like you might expect your breath to be on a morning
with no worries. There were planes at the beach also, four of them.
They flew low, I think they were searching for something. The faint roar of their
engines slowly closing in over me and flooding my ears, then subsiding, allowing
the crashing of the waves to once again take center stage. The yell of a Frisbee or
beach ball player explodes from my left. Mom and I eat yogurt and bananas and
enjoy the warmth of the sun. Before leaving we walk to the edge of the sea. I hear
it in front of me. It starts with a soft but full-bodied gush which builds up to a
crackle, something like the static on a radio, and grows into an entity all its own—
the powerful roar of the ocean and the crashing of the water as the waves pound
against the sand. Then the fizzling of the foam as it sneaks its way up to my feet.
It sounds like hamburgers cooking on the grill and I see this in all its red glory,
the grease bubbling and frying in my mind, sizzle, the meat redder than the red-
dest red of the sighted world. What accounts for this extra color in my minds-eye?”
Day Three: Final Evening, on my hill, removing my bandages and seeing again:
“What a drug sight can be; I just took the bandages off. I indulge in the visual
now and almost fry my brain! Taking them off and seeing the sunset was some-
thing I couldn’t have foreseen. It was more real and vivid and wonderful than
anything I’ve ever seen. It was the ultimate in perception! I know that I won’t
be able to aptly describe it on these pages but this is my best attempt. At first
everything before me was blurred but only for a short time, and then I saw
the tree against the background of the sky. Each small branch shimmered
with its own life, an entity of its own. Deep, dark, blackness, so rich and deep
like nothing I’ve seen before. Every twig, every limb, burnt savagely into the
soft blue sky. And then the sun…the sun ducked down behind the trees and the
bright halo arose from the dark mountain and filled the sky. It then began to
shrink and as it shrunk it gained intensity until it burst and spurt brilliant
light across the sky, across the valley, filling my vision with brilliance. What
remained was a pastel yellow globe of light just above the horizon. To either
side of the globe, just above the treeline, shot out a bright red line of light; it
flickered and suddenly vanished. The blue and orange of the sky turned pas-
tel. The air gained new life from the light of the sinking sun. A bird arose from
the shimmering tree and shot past me. Then I turned to my left and saw the
deepest, most crisp shades of purples and blues of the distant and not so dis-
tant hills. And the hill I was on was pure also; it was green but it was also
blue. It was both at the same time but it wasn’t confused or muddy; it was
clarity. I had the feeling about my eyes as if the sights I was should be out of
focus but all that I saw was crisper and richer than it had ever been. My eyes
hurt but I kept looking. It struck be that everything I saw was alive and had
just been born—the world was starting over, afresh! I then turned and looked
behind me. There I saw my hill, the one I sit on all the time. The trees were
black and green, all shades and hues, full and real; I was drunk with what
I saw. Everything reached out and touched me, nothing stayed still, it all
reached out to me: the purple hills, the dark green trees, my hill, the burnt
black tree, the sky, and the light of the disappearing sun. All these reached
out and stung my eyes. I turned to my right and there was a girl. She was
so small it seemed but also so big. She was beautiful. Her eyes light blue,
dark blue rimmed, and happy. She was so close but she also seemed very
far away. I couldn’t touch her but I was glad she was there and I know I
talked to her but I don’t know what I said, something about the beauty
around us. This feeling didn’t go away as it seems it would, like so many ter-
rific things do, but it stayed with me and surrounded me and caressed me
for a long time. I saw in this way and I felt complete.”
Conclusion of My Experiment with Three Days of Blindness:
“It was an overwhelming experience. I am so glad I got to ‘see’ it. I feel very
lucky. Now I can see and I don’t know if I care. Sure I don’t run into walls
or trucks anymore, and I think that’s a good thing, but I feel as if I’ve lost
Now I’m in the harried world of sight where we are way overstimulated.
We must rush off to school or to work, I have work to get done, I must be
in certain places at certain times, and there is television and newspapers
and books to read, shows to see, and sports to enjoy. I think that there is
too much to think about, too much stimulation. I’m not entirely glad to
have my sight back. It means jumping back into this whirlwind that we’ve
all been spinning around in so long. A whirlwind that’s got us dizzy and
confused, and that stirs up the dust and leaves us with tears in our eyes.
The tears of our souls crying to escape this tormenting tempest….
What satisfaction I felt from making my meals or making some cookies.
It seems it would be the same, the feeling of fulfillment, if I had a plot of
land somewhere and I could wake in the morning and build maybe a part
of my home, maybe the bathroom today or a windmill for energy. What
satisfaction that would be, and to plant the seeds that would sometime
later be my food, and to write and paint and cook—how simple. How
meaningless and wasteful…but it isn’t. It is simple and it is pure, and whole
and unscattered, and unhurried, and easy to keep everything in front of
me. Not confusing; just peaceful…
It was a wonderful experiment and a great ‘vacationland’. Instead of
travelling far away I travelled within and found a whole world of mir-
aculous sights and breathtaking beauty—a land that reached farther
than the eye can see, and that holds more to do than the greatest family
amusement park. It is a land whose limits exceed infinity and whose
treasures I’ve only just begun to dig up. This land of wonder is my mind.”
(to be continued)