65: The Joy I Choose to See

65: The Joy I Choose to See

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

The Joy I Choose to See

It took me a long time not to judge myself through someone else’s eyes.

~Sally Field

“What happened, Mommy?” my six-year-old son asked. I was on my knees, at the bottom of the stairway, groping for the clean laundry I’d spilled on the floor.

“Nothing, honey. Don’t worry, I just had an accident.”

That wasn’t the first time I’d misjudged and tripped on the steps while carrying a basket of folded laundry to the second floor. Unable to see my surroundings, tripping, falling, or running into objects had become the norm for me.

Retinitis pigmentosa, the incurable, hereditary retinal disease that had stolen my sight only two years prior, had invaded my life with no warning.

But what attacked my peace was my inability to perform simple tasks. Even the effort of matching socks needed more patience than I had. Burning my fingers while cooking on the stove increased my frustration. I lamented my fate. And how I wished that self-pity could be washed out like the ketchup stains on the boys’ shirts.

“Let me help you with the chores,” my husband asked over and over again.

But what would I do if he took over the care of the house too? I didn’t want to feel useless.

Being blind erased my ability to perform so many needed tasks. Driving our four-, six-, and eight-year-old sons to soccer practice, to birthday parties. Shopping for them, checking their homework, even buying groceries had to be delegated to others.

What a helpful family I had. But no one could come to my aid when it came to fighting the feelings of worthlessness. Nor could anyone calm my desperation or help me climb out of my dark prison and feel worthwhile, or bring back meaning and let me live with significance.

A life of gloom was all I could see. Often while the house was silent, I sat on the sofa with a wrinkled tissue in hand.

One evening, while I dried dinner dishes beside the sink, my eight-year-old son Jason and his friend watched TV in the family room. “My Mom is blind,” Jason said, “but she does everything like she can see.”

“Like she can see?” I heard that comment loud and clear in my heart. My son believed in me, he trusted in my care, and he didn’t feel deprived because his mom was sightless.

I was the one who had put limitations on myself. I was the one who saw my blindness as a disability.

Possibilities soon filled my head. What if I got a job? What if I changed my life? What if I tried something despite my blindness?

The secret desire to work outside the home stirred excitement. A job somewhere, anywhere would be a start.

But where would I begin? Before losing my sight, I had earned my bachelor’s degree. But I had no skills or experience. Who would hire a blind person with no skills? I chided myself to stop that thinking. That was the first step, the crucial step — to hold any negative, destructive thoughts captive.

Since Spanish is my native language, I called an interpreting company asking if they needed interpreters. To my delight, they said yes. And they invited me to take a test — an oral test.

That very next day, the secretary called, “We’re so impressed with the results that we want to send you to the Immigration and Naturalization Court tomorrow morning for your first assignment.”

Wow! Those words nearly made me jump with joy. I’d actually passed the test. They trusted in my abilities to perform. Hearing that encouragement sparked a passion.

Using the white cane, a method of walking that had caused shame and embarrassment before, also changed. The cane became my best friend the next day. I exited the taxi, and swinging the cane back and forth, I made my way to the entrance of the court buildings. And to my relief, a kind person offered to help me find my way to a specific courtroom.

I interpreted basic levels of court proceedings. Maybe I wasn’t worthless. I managed to do a good job in court. Maybe I wasn’t useless. I was hired for more interpretations in other court proceedings. Maybe I wasn’t unproductive. All the doubts about my inabilities melted away.

“Okay, guys,” I called out to my sons. “You have homework and I have studying to do too. Let’s get to work.”

We all learned. I practiced, took courses to sharpen my skills, and using material in audio, I memorized lists of legal terminology. As my vocabulary increased, so did my confidence.

More determined than ever, I took the plunge and learned to operate a computer with software that reads the screen. As my fingers danced on the keyboard, I began to write. First I wrote short articles, devotionals, and then my story. I divided it into chapters, gave it a title, and it became my first book.

The inspiration it brought to readers answered the question I’d asked years prior. I was indeed contributing something to touch others, to inspire and encourage them.

More opportunities came my way. Folks asked me to share the details of my life. This prompted a career as an inspirational speaker. I was delighted to travel to speaking engagements across the U.S.

Blindness didn’t have to define me, determine my future, or dictate my destiny. Lack of sight didn’t mean lack of passion.

I still can’t see what’s in front of me, but I can see with my heart where I’m going.

~Janet Perez Eckles

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