71: Seeing Rightly

71: Seeing Rightly

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

Seeing Rightly

The excursion is the same when you go looking for your sorrow as when you go looking for your joy.

~Eudora Welty

When I first opened my art studio, I was fortunate to have a blind student. Nick and his twin brother (who was not visually impaired) started classes with me when they were seven. It was important to their mom that I accommodate, but not substitute, curriculum for Nick. At first, I was hesitant, not wanting him to feel singled out.

I soon learned that my reservations about his impairment were my handicap, not his. Nick was a remarkable child: brilliant, extroverted, and so well adjusted that I marveled at his sense of self and his extraordinary confidence. He was always willing to try new materials and tools. He kept the students around him entertained in lively conversation and imaginative musings. His enthusiasm was contagious. He participated in the same projects that the sighted students did, with minimal assistance from me. When they painted, he painted; when they sewed, he sewed.

In class, he talked openly and easily about his visual impairment and answered questions from the other students and myself about what life is like for a blind person. We talked about color, line, and form. Although three-dimensional activities were easier for him to comprehend, he engaged in drawing and painting as well. One of our favorite activities was having Nick draw lines on paper while the other students told him what they saw in his drawings. He would choose color as carefully as a sighted student, and when asked why he chose a particular color, he would always give a thoughtful and creative answer. Once, I bought him specially scented crayons, thinking that he would enjoy being able to identify them by scent.

“What are these?” he scoffed when I handed him the new pack.

“Scented crayons. Try them.”

He opened the box, took a sniff, and handed them back. “I’d rather have the real crayons,” he stated.

One particularly busy afternoon several years into his tenure at the studio, he asked one of his usual provocative questions. “Do you think that someday I will be able to drive?” I was preoccupied with helping another student, but being very familiar with his level of candor, I was comfortable enough to answer him honestly.

“Drive?” I asked. “Like a car? No, Nick. I don’t think you will be able to drive.” With a little humor, I added, “And, please, at least not while I am still on the road!”

We all laughed, but he wasn’t finished. “Someday they might have a car designed especially for visually impaired people. Don’t you think that can happen?”

“Yes, I do,” I replied. “But Nick, someday they might have an operation or procedure that would allow blind people to see. Wouldn’t you rather have that?”

He thought for a moment and then responded with a simple “No.” All at once, everyone stopped working. I couldn’t believe what I had heard.

“Why not?” I asked.

His reply was careful and unforgettable. “Because,” he began, “what I think things look like in my head and what they really look like might not be the same. I don’t want to be disappointed.”

I stood there speechless. Every preconceived notion that I had about the visually impaired shattered in the wake of his genuine, honest answer. Never again would I be so arrogant as to think that my sighted world was any richer or fuller than his unsighted one.

Nick is now in his twenties and thriving as a very active and creative college student. His prophetic idea about a car for the visually impaired has come to pass thanks to the driverless cars that are starting to be marketed now. I am certain that when the cars are widely available, Nick will own one.

As a visual artist, I am wholly dependent on my sense of sight. Until I met Nick, I often pitied those who couldn’t marvel at the beauty in the world around us. But through working with students like Nick and watching my own father struggle with macular degeneration, I have come to realize that it is not their world that is limited; it is mine.

I am a prisoner of reality, while their reality is limitless. I read Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book, The Little Prince, years ago, but it wasn’t until meeting Nick that I fully understood one of the most important lines in the book: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

~T.A. Barbella

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