87: Seeing the World

87: Seeing the World

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Seeing the World

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

~Author Unknown

My friends and I chatted at my kitchen table. “You’ve got to see these pictures of my trip,” one of them said as she rummaged in her purse for her smartphone. I gave a shy smile. Inside, dark thoughts swirled. How I wished I could see them and how I wanted to be independent and free to travel as she did. Secretly, I cursed the retinal disease that took my eyesight and kept me at home.

I hid my disappointment behind another fake smile. “You guys will have to describe them to me,” I said. “I sure wish I could travel like you.”

“You can,” she said. “Airlines have assistance for the blind.”

Assistance? Not the kind I needed. I first needed help in overcoming my apprehension of going anywhere alone. And I also needed to learn to have enough boldness to ask for help.

For a long time, I went to bed with that desire in my heart and that sense of helplessness in my mind. I prayed for freedom and I asked God for solutions.

Months later, He answered me by giving me boldness. “It’s been years,” my cousin said in Spanish when she called on the phone from Bolivia. “You need to come and visit.”

I couldn’t pass up a chance to go back home. I didn’t want to miss that opportunity. That visit was a desire I’d tucked deep in my heart for years.

My sons were old enough to stay with their dad and the airline ticket for me was affordable. Although I had no excuses to pass up the trip, I had one hurdle to overcome — fear.

Determined to fight that insecurity, I took the first step. I swallowed hard and picked up the phone. I dialed directory assistance and contacted an airline. I requested a round-trip ticket from Orlando to La Paz, Bolivia.

“Anything else?” the airline representative asked.

I took a deep breath. “Yes,” I said. “I’m blind and wonder if you would have anyone to help me navigate through the airport?”

“Yes, ma’am,” she said. “Just a moment, please.”

My muscles stiffened. I wasn’t as bold and secure as I thought. But there was no turning back now. Everything about the idea scared me — the international flight and all of the uncertainty. The risk I’d end up somewhere else. The possibility I’d trip or fall, lose my luggage, or need something and have no one to ask. All the possibilities ran through my head.

Traveling alone for the blind should be banned, I thought.

The rep came back on the phone. “I have it all arranged,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. “Is there anything else?”

That was my clue. Her voice, pleasant and calm, told me they’d dealt with blind people before. The help they provided seemed to be part of their routine. And that’s when I vowed that my sense of adventure would also become part of my life’s routine.

I removed fear from my itinerary. Instead, I packed courage, trust in God and lots of boldness.

Once in the airport, I sharpened my hearing to take in the action around me and to listen to announcements. I then heard the announcement to board the plane.

When I arrived in La Paz, my cousin and I hugged and hugged at the reunion. We relished every moment during my visit to my hometown. And eventually, the trips that followed turned airplanes and airports into familiar settings for me.

Years later, sharing my story of moving from “fear to faith” with audiences also became a familiar activity. Like an airplane on a runway, my career as an inspirational speaker took off. Dozens of trips all around the world continue to fill my calendar.

My routine seldom changes. I kiss my husband goodbye at curbside. With excitement in my heart, I hand my ID to the airline representative when I get to the counter. Then the fun begins. I wait for the escort assigned to me. And holding his arm with one hand, I carry the white cane with the other as we walk across the airport. Engaged in conversation, we follow the exercise through security and head to my gate with ease.

But sometimes, with no extra effort, I land in trouble. On one occasion, a flight attendant guided me by the arm to my seat inside the plane. She stopped. “Here’s your seat,” she said.

“Thank you,” I said as I stretched my arm and held onto the back of the seat. As I did, I noticed the object I was holding onto began to move. And that’s when I realized it wasn’t the seat I was gripping, but a man’s bald head.

Embarrassed? Perhaps a little, but I quickly add those incidents to the humorous stories I later share with my audiences.

When arriving at my destination, someone assigned by the organization I’ll be speaking to is usually waiting for me. I’ve never met him or her before, but after a few moments of chatting, he or she becomes my friend. Everyone I encounter usually does — the person seated beside me on the plane, the hotel clerk, and even housekeeping staff become friends for the moment. Some even open their hearts and share intimate, painful details of their lives. And other folks I meet become lasting friends.

Most are curious. “Are you totally blind?” they ask when I first meet them. “Were you born blind?”

That begins a warm conversation in which I relate details of the retinal hereditary disease. But I emphasize the advantages of being blind: I don’t judge anyone on appearance. Everyone is beautiful to me. When I look outside, it’s always sunny. And in the morning when I glance in the mirror, in my mind, I look pretty good. No bad hair days for me.

My trips have taken me from self-pity to security and from complacency to passion. Unlike my friend with her smartphone, I carry images in my heart of the vibrant places I’ve been. I store images of friends I’ve met and who’ve added to my joy. And in the photo album of my heart, I include not only kind gestures from those I meet, but the beautiful opportunities to show others how to see the best of life.

~Janet Perez Eckles

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