Courage, Heroism, and Other Delusions

Blindness is scary for anyone who hasn’t experienced it. Blindness is, for some people at least, the ultimate worst-case scenario. People have told me, to my face, that they’d rather be anything else—deaf, paralyzed, depressed—than blind. I always marvel at this shortsightedness (pun intended) but I understand it, too. If I went totally deaf tomorrow, I’d feel frightened and desperate. The thought makes me shiver, though I’d never presume that deaf people’s lives are abysses of misery. Even if I did, I’d never say it to their faces, because it’s one of the most insensitive ideas I can imagine.

Perhaps the worst thing to hear, though, is “I could never manage a life without sight…how do you do it?”

How indeed. As we all know by now, most blind people live successful, productive lives. Those who don’t usually have other factors to contend with; blindness, by itself, does not guarantee a hopeless existence. Certainly, it can be a struggle. I’m not going to gloss that over. I’ve spent the past year blogging about all the ways it can be difficult. I confess I’ve sometimes indulged in a little self-pity. Eventually, though, I just go back to my life, because what else am I going to do? I can’t wallow forever.

So, how do I do it? How do I live with this disability (or indeed my less visible ones)? I am going to tell you my secret. I am going to reveal to you the cornerstone of my continuous courage in the face of adversity. I can even tell it to you in four words. Ready? Here goes.
“I have no choice.”

Yup, that’s all there is, folks. I was born this way, and I’m going to stay this way indefinitely. I deal with blindness because it’s my constant companion. I surmount blindness-related obstacles because I have no alternative. I keep my head up because the only other option is to put it down and never lift it again. To not “deal with this” is to not exist at all, and that’s definitely not a viable solution. I mean, what would you do if you went blind tomorrow? What would you do if you had no other choice but to be the way you are? What would you do, kill yourself?

Actually, yes. Some people have admitted that they would at least consider it: “God, if I were blind, I’d be suicidal. I could never have your life. It’d be too hard. I’m not brave enough, or heroic enough, or strong enough. I’d give up completely.”

First, ouch! You think my life—or a life like mine—is so full of despair that I’d be better off dead? Second, how can you say this with any conviction until you’ve experienced it? Third … you think I’m brave? Heroic? Strong?

I hate to disappoint you, but I’m none of those things, at least in relation to my disabilities. There’s nothing like necessity to spur you on. There’s nothing like adversity to force flexibility. When enough pressure is exerted, you either bend or you break. I’ve managed to bend, that’s all. There’s nothing mystical or herculean about that.

I’m not brave because I cross the street without looking at the traffic. I’m not heroic because I advocate for my right to equitable treatment. I’m not strong because I haven’t folded yet. The human spirit is surprisingly supple—it can adapt to just about any situation. People carry far heavier burdens with more grace than I carry mine. Just because I seem brave, or strong, or heroic doesn’t mean I am. It just means I’m getting on with things.

So many people shoulder things that seem impossible to bear. They don’t do so because they want to display their courage. They do it because it happens to be what life has thrown at them, and now they’re making it work as best they can. And, if you had to do the same, I can just about promise that you’d make it work, too. There is no point telling someone how brave you think they are, and further telling them that you could never handle it. They’re not handling it out of a desire to draw attention to their mettle. They’re handling it because it’s the only way.

I’m not here to be an inspiration for others, and I’m not here to prove to myself that I’m a brave soul. I’m here because humanity went forth and multiplied, and I’ve been dealt an imperfect hand, just like everyone else. If that makes me heroic, then we’re all heroes—each and every one.