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Seeing With the Heart

One of the most difficult and devastating losses one can experience is that of physical disability.  Of these one of the ones that is most feared is blindness, due to its impact on major life functions.

In the past year I have had ample opportunity to learn about this first hand as I have experienced acute visual loss due to medical errors.  Ironically, while the diagnosis for my condition was made at the same medical center that caused the vision loss, no rehabilitation services exist there for visual loss as such services are not reimbursed by health insurance.  Instead a referral was made to the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ABVI).   Through their efforts and those of so many other "angels" in my life I have been able to learn to see in new and different ways, to be healed both physically and spiritually, one day at a time.

My first guide on this journey was a cheerful, empathic social worker who stirred the cocoon of my isolation and apprised me of the many services available to attend to daily life functions, to communicate and move freely and independently.  Through her kind ministrations, she helped me sort through the confusion and organize and chart the course of my rehabilitation.

My next visitor was a vision rehab specialist who assessed my home from top to bottom, customizing appliances, labeling clothing, and procuring such helpful devices as a talking watch.  As I had been an avid reader, she introduced me to Braille and low vision magnifying devices.  As the weeks passed I slowly and laboriously worked my way up from nursery rhymes, to Aesop's fables and now today am working through a full length novel.  

One challenging facet of physical disability is the isolation imposed.  This problem was attended to by a marvelous mobility instructor.  Her cheerful, can-do attitude was infectious. Again, very slowly, I learned with my long cane to perceive changes in pavement gradients, develop echo location skills and solidify an inner compass with other senses to assess direction, obstacles, etc.. My efforts were reinforced by a bevy of friends who patiently guided me as I repeatedly walked familiar byways to form mental maps of my surroundings.

One major lifeline for those with disabilities are the advances in technology.  With training sessions at the ABVI and the efforts of the Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped, I received adaptive computer equipment.  Through the loving encouragement of friends I kept in continuous contact via email, the Internet and began writing my experiences reflectively.

Throughout the process of acquiring these new skills, I was sustained and propelled by the loving encouragement of family and friends who cheered on the small, incremental achievements, sent cards, gifts, took me with them to dinners, movies, etc..  These let me know that while physical disability may change one's life, it does not end it.

As I have progressed through my rehabilitation I have had the opportunity to learn much.  Through the caring support of the ABVI staff, my faith, my family, friends, former colleagues and most of all, a loving husband, I have learned that while visual loss can have a major effect on one's life;  there are many different ways to see. For each new skill acquired confers restoration of confidence and self-worth.  With my long cane I have explored the nuances of how and where that sidewalk ends, inhaled and received inspiration and guidance from the scent of a rose, shared the interpretation of a novel with its reader and caressed an author's words with my fingertips. While I do not for one minute minimize the problems physical disability can pose, I also know that there is only one truly profound disability - that of the spirit.  It is also one that each of us has the capacity to cure - through seeing and speaking to each other lovingly with our hearts - to look within ourselves and to one another each and every day.  

Included below are two reflections written during my rehabilitation.

"The Crossing"

The curb cut beckons,
Gently guiding tremulous feet,
To its pitted bank,
The coursing currents of steel,
Respectfully stanch their course,
The scout calls out,
"All clear!"
She steps upon asphalt shoals,
Fording her way across,
Debarking on the opposite shore.
The dam swings free.
The currents leap forth,
She whispers a silent prayer,
At this private Rubicon.

"Helios - The Sun"

Your bold, shining eminence,
Bows my head,
Portals of recognition slam shut,
But slivers of your aroma,
Permeate tissues of consciousness,
So impossible to ignore.
I make painful supplications,
As you inexorably ravage,
The landscape of my soul.
Yet the course of years,
Reduces your lustrous mien,
Our black holes will intersect.
As the trajectories of courses collide.
At an unmarked way station,
On the orbit of time.

Catherine Alfieri is a Pittsford resident, former teacher and would like to hear about readers life journeys.  She can be contacted at:

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