19: Blind Faith

19: Blind Faith

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

Blind Faith

Leadership is action, not position.

~Donald H. McGannon

“Why?” I pleaded for an answer. “Oh, God, why is this happening to me?” I moaned as I buried my head in my pillow.

I was in my prime. I had just turned nineteen. I was a sophomore at a prestigious Ivy League women’s college and I had a plan. I was going to study abroad, graduate, go to law school, get a good job at a top law firm, find a man, get married, start a family — have it all. I wasn’t supposed to go blind. That wasn’t part of the plan. Yet, there I was, blind, lying helpless on my childhood bed in my parents’ house, tears streaming down my face as I gasped for air between heaving sobs.

God will never give you more than you can bear, I thought, in a futile attempt to calm down. For a split second, my nerves settled. Then, the thoughts of what was to come flooded back into my head. I shuddered and cried out, “Oh God, I just can’t bear it.”

I was used to going to doctors. I had endured hundreds of examinations and had undergone dozens of operations ever since I was four years old and diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, cataracts, glaucoma and uveitis. I was a seasoned patient, not afraid of any doctor, needle or procedure. Operation? No problem. Only one day after laser surgery to reduce the pressure in my eye, I was outside swinging on the swing set simply because it was a beautiful day and I loved the sense of freedom that swinging on a swing gave me. Even when I was ten years old, sitting in the examination chair for a post-operative checkup in Boston and the doctor told me and my parents that the retina in my left eye had detached during surgery, I didn’t flinch. I simply accepted the news and happily walked the several blocks to the ocularist’s office where I was promptly fitted with a starter prosthesis for my left eye. I still had the sight in my right eye. It wasn’t great vision — I was legally blind — but I could see. That is how I always was — at least with those sorts of things — resilient, optimistic.

But, that day, in that examination chair, I was shaken to the core by my greatest fear — being blind, being disabled. My fear of blindness and being seen as disabled is what took me to the brink when I was fifteen. Not only the thought of being different, but actually being ostracized by my peers, sent me spiraling into a deep depression. I cursed God and asked Him why back then. Now, here I was all over again, no longer visually impaired, but completely blind — after a sudden flare-up of my condition.

“Will I get my sight back?” I had asked my doctor tentatively. I feared the answer, but had to ask.

He paused. “I don’t know. Hopefully,” he said in a low, sincere voice.

Hopefully. I repeated the word in my mind and remembered the serenity prayer. I couldn’t change this. I would have to go on. So, that is what I did. I continued with the plan I had originally charted. Little did I know, this was part of a bigger plan.

Only a few weeks before I had my flare-up, in a city three hundred miles away, a man lost his sight as well. He had been diagnosed with glaucoma as an infant. After going totally blind as a toddler, doctors restored the sight in one of his eyes. He had lived with that sight for over twenty-five years until in a freak accident with a pair of pliers, his sight was gone in a second.

His name was Lance and our paths did not cross until nearly two years later when he and I were in Morristown, New Jersey training with our first seeing-eye dogs. It wasn’t love at first sight, and not just because neither one of us could see. He was brash, cynical, and arrogant, but he was also kind, intelligent, and funny. We began a six-year courtship. We traveled together with our seeing-eye dogs, walking, taking planes, trains, buses and taxis blindly and boldly going wherever we wanted. We shared our hopes, dreams and fears with one another.

One day, Lance took me in his arms and said, “You’re my inspiration.”

I smiled. “You should know sappy lines from eighties rock songs don’t work on me,” I said jokingly. He knew they did.

“No. I mean it. You’re the reason I want to be better. You inspire me. I didn’t know what was possible until you showed me.”

“Well, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I’m your girlfriend. You should think that about me. If you didn’t, we’d have a problem.” We laughed.

I wasn’t ready to accept what Lance was trying to tell me. He saw something in me that I could not see and that led to a stunning moment in my life, when I realized one of my childhood dreams, and when I also started to see the bigger picture about my blindness.

I was adorned in my cap and gown and doctoral hood, about to graduate from Cornell Law School. I picked up my seeing-eye dog’s harness handle and ascended the steps to the stage. The dean called my name. I took one last deep breath, rolled back my shoulders, lifted my head and commanded my dog “forward.”

A sudden thunderous tidal wave of applause carried me across the stage. Screaming, cheering, clapping from every direction. I was dumbfounded, moved and enlightened. This really was it. This was the answer to the question I had asked years before. Why? This was why. I was so focused on my blindness being only about me. Yes, I was the one who overcame it in order to graduate, but by overcoming it and accomplishing my goals, I unknowingly was inspiring those around me.

This is what Lance was talking about. My journey could help others and now that I knew, I was compelled to share my experience and everything I had learned. Together, Lance and I formed Blind Faith Enterprises LLC to motivate, educate and inspire others to reach their highest potential. I truly believe that there is a reason for everything and we all do have a purpose. It might not be easy to see exactly what the reason or purpose is, but that’s because we are looking for it with our eyes instead of feeling it with our hearts. I am so thankful for being able to inspire Lance and that he in turn helped me realize my purpose in life.

~Angela C. Winfield, Esq.

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