“May I Pray For You?”

“Excuse me …”
“Yes?”
“What’s your name?”
“Meagan…any reason you ask?”
“Yes. Meagan, would it be okay if I prayed for you?”
“Why…”
“Well, I’d like to ask Jesus if He might help you with your eyes.”
“Ah.”

This one. It happens to most of us at one time or another. I admit that I’ve heard about it plenty of times, but didn’t experience it myself until I was eighteen or so. I hear all kinds of derisive comments about the situation, even from religious blind people. They hate pity as much as I do, and they consider the prayers insulting, or at least misguided.

I tend to react differently, and I must say that my approach is very unpopular. No, I’m not wild about the idea of people asking God to fix me. I wager that He would cure me (or not) with or without entreaties from strangers. I fight the good fight where negative stereotypes are concerned—you all know this, dearest readers—and I discourage pity as often as possible. And yet …

There is something so earnest and genuine about these offers of prayer. The requests might be misguided, yes. The desire to see us cured is misplaced, certainly. In many cases, we’re at peace with our lives as they are, and a cure is potentially frightening to many of us. So no, I don’t actively encourage anyone, stranger or otherwise, to pray for or even wish for a cure.

On the very few occasions when someone goes out of their way to ask if they can pray for me, I do my best to respond with grace. I respect and appreciate their openhearted compassion, even if I wish there wasn’t a need for it in the first place. I know in my heart that they have the purest intentions, at least most of the time. And, while I generally take issue with the “good intentions” card, there are, in my mind at least, exceptions. Will my life change in any way if a stranger goes home and prays for me? I suspect not. Will it hurt me, though? I don’t see how. Will I gain anything by berating them for even asking? No. Will I further my own cause by being harsh with them? Definitely not.

I’m at a point now where I decline these offers of prayer as graciously as I can. I spend too much time battling the idea that we’re just waiting for someone—anyone—to “make the blind to see” as it is. Still … I have to celebrate the goodwill of these people. Society is apathetic and individualistic to such a degree that these small kindnesses, however I might feel about them, remain special to me.

If you must pray, then pray for me, by all means. I ask, though, that you pray for my well-being. Pray that my various issues remain manageable. Pray that I continue to cross paths with fortune.

Don’t pray for the blind girl. Pray for the girl.

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I’m Not Sorry, And You Shouldn’t Be, Either

I was chatting with Blindbeader (formerly referred to on this blog as CrazyMusician) and her husband Ben; he was telling us about a person who, upon finding out that his wife was blind, responded with “oh…I’m sorry…” He replied, “I’m not sorry, and neither is she.”

As most things do, this conversation got me thinking. This tendency for people to immediately and instinctively respond with an expression of pity or sympathy is common and widespread. I’d say more people do it than don’t, and it has always put me off a little. I realize the intent is good (isn’t it always?), but there’s something about it that makes me uneasy. You say “I’m sorry” when a loved one dies, or when someone is fired from their job. You don’t send sympathy cards or express pity when you meet someone who is gay, for example. It may make life harder for them, but it’s a natural part of them and they’ve lived with it all their lives. It would be equally absurd to say “oh, I’m sorry” to someone who is, say, an African American woman. African American women, particularly in the United States, face far more discrimination than white women, but few people would dare to pity her very existence.

So why do they do it to us?

I think it’s ultimately a result of people’s idea that blindness is a terrible fate. I’ve talked about this reaction before, but of course people who have always been blind don’t lament what they’ve never had. It’s annoying, sure. It’s frustrating. It puts us in the path of discrimination, stereotyping, and general bigotry. We struggle to find jobs and, as I’ve recently discovered, getting benefits is a monumental struggle for quite a few of us. Still, I would never appreciate someone apologizing for my very life.

The thing is, living with blindness, especially in developed countries, is not a terrible thing. My life is not so horrible that sighted people need pity me. Compassion is desirable; pity is not.

There is something equally odd about apologizing to a blind person’s loved ones, especially those who choose to be in our lives. I can only imagine the response you’d receive if you apologized to my sighted friends for having a blind friend. (I really, really don’t recommend this.) I have personally witnessed strangers say to my friends, “it’s so nice of you to help her.” They usually reply with some variant of “I’m not helping her, I’m hanging out with her. and I don’t do it because I’m nice; I do it because I like her.” I do know that a few of my instructors have also received sympathy, but they have actively enjoyed my presence in their classrooms, and I don’t think they would ever say they deserve pity just for teaching me. I don’t think my family would appreciate it much, either, even if they understand the motivation behind the sentiment. While my parents and sister have had to deal with the help I occasionally need, I don’t think they’ve ever regretted it. I don’t think they’ve ever sought sympathy. I really don’t think any of my family—immediate or extended—is sorry I am who I am. They might have compassion for the pitfalls and struggles I deal with, but I doubt they are sorry for my whole existence. I doubt they perceive my life to be so terrible that they have to feel sorry for me.

Absurdly enough, I’ve always found enormous solace in both animals and children. Some animals, especially dogs, can definitely tell that I can’t see (my cat, bless her, has not picked up on this, and still mews with indignation when I trip over her). They take it in stride, and beyond getting annoyed when I step on them, they don’t perceive me any differently—or love me any less—than sighted humans. My first dog, Buddy, would not allow my five-year-old self to stray anywhere near traffic. He’d actually knock me over in his attempts to herd me away from the road. My aunt’s dog, Peanut, will actually move out of my way when he sees me coming, because he knows I won’t know he’s there. Children always know I’m blind, and they often react with insatiable curiosity. However, once they have asked all their questions, they, too, take it in stride. They are definitely not wasting energy being sorry for me.

I’m not sorry—I’m really not. I like my life. It is full, and rich, and replete with possibility. I have amazing friends and family. My fiancé is more than I could ever have hoped for. I anticipate a lot of joy and fulfillment in my future. The last thing I need is pity.

So if I’m not sorry, then you shouldn’t be, either.