19: Blind Determination

19: Blind Determination

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Blind Determination

Oh, my friend, it’s not what they take away from you that counts. It’s what you do with what you have left.

~Hubert Humphrey

“How’s my little girl?” my uncle asked as he pulled his daughter close to him and smothered her with kisses. I watched as my heart hungered for the same affection. At age ten, I cried out in silence for a little of that tenderness. Words of endearment never slipped from my dad’s lips. I never, ever heard a single “I love you.”

Years swept by, and respect and distance characterized our relationship. Until, that is, I learned that I did receive something from him — the thing that would drastically change my life.

When I turned thirteen, my parents took me to an ophthalmologist. Seated in the examining chair, my face firmly on the chin rest and pupils dilated, I stared forward. Shining a bright light, the doctor looked into my eyes. “She did inherit it,” he said. “You need to be prepared. There’s no cure for this retinal disease.”

My father carried the retinitis pigmentosa gene, which causes a deterioration of the retina. Its effect often brought on complete blindness with no hope of cure. Although my brother’s retinas seemed fine, I’d inherited the gene.

The doctor cleared his throat. “But she might not notice any effects of the disease until she reaches the age of sixty.”

Sadly, the hope-filled prognosis turned out to be grossly incorrect. Night blindness put a damper on my activities when I began my teenage years. The need for assistance from my friends in order to navigate through dimly-lit areas magnified my humiliation. Night blindness threatened to shatter my fragile teenage self-esteem.

I thwarted my apprehension and dread as I finished college and later married the love of my life. My world shone with happiness — a husband who loved me, three sons to fulfill my longing to be a mom, and general good health.

But that happiness evaporated like dew in the morning sun when, in addition to my night blindness, my peripheral vision began to close in. Slowly at first, then more noticeably with each week.

By coincidence, or perhaps by cruel irony, my father’s vision began to diminish at the same time. Dad was fifty-five years of age, but I was only thirty. In a matter of two years, we both lost our sight completely.

I sunk into a pool of self-pity with despair threatening to drown me. My world crumbled as the physical darkness destroyed the dreams my husband and I had for us and our three little boys. With no treatment available or hope of a transplant, desperation and despair filled my days, and bitterness accompanied my sleepless nights. When I finally turned to faith for answers, I saw that I could embrace hope and find peace. Although my physical sight was gone, my heart had 20/20 vision. My attitude had changed, my perception had cleared and my outlook had sharpened.

The most dramatic transformation was in the relationship with my dad, who I now saw with my heart instead of my eyes. True, he wasn’t the expressive type, with tender and cuddly words to sweeten my world, but what he’d given me went beyond words and warm caresses. He had given me the example of strong will and determination.

At thirty-five, he’d made the decision to move the family from Bolivia to the United States. He battled doubt as his friends and relatives criticized his perceived foolishness. Ignoring their criticism, my father pressed on. Once in the United States, he overcame humiliation, intense loneliness, helplessness and uncertainty. He endured ridicule due to his lack of fluency in English. Working the night shift unloading trucks, he managed to save enough money for the basic necessities — rent, used furniture, and a down payment on a car. Nine months later, he sent airline tickets for my mom, my brother and me.

Now that I see differently, I am grateful for what my father gave me. He showed me the determination to move forward when facing adversity. He demonstrated the commitment to family and the importance of setting priorities.

Looking back, I know that I had the perfect dad — perfect for me. He stepped from the comfort of our hometown in Bolivia to the unknown in a foreign land. I did the same as I stepped into the unfamiliarity of the sightless world.

And though Dad’s love lacks words, his subtle actions give it a sweet voice. I heard its sound when my first book came out. Mom said he clutched it to his heart and tears flowed from his blind eyes.

~Janet Perez Eckles

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