I once heard a music teacher telling his students the key to mastering an instrument.
“I know that right now you hate to practice,” he said.
The students nodded.
“But the more you practice, the better you’ll get, and the better you get, the more you like to practice. You just have to get over that first bump.”
I hope going blind is like that, and I will come to enjoy it. I have found that it takes a lot of practice.
What do I need to practice?
The first thing I needed to practice was learning how to ricochet. When you lose your vision slowly, at first it’s kind of an inconvenience. You can’t quite see things the way you used to, but you get by. Then your vision gets worse and you begin to run into things. The first time I ran into a half open door, I wanted to punch it. It hit me, and I retaliated. This was also painful. So you slowly learn to expect collisions with doors, with coffee tables, with fire hydrants, and with people, especially toddlers, who are small and furtive. Dogs and cats quickly learn to stay out of your way and they are not a significant factor. With people, it’s totally situation dependent. If you bump into someone on a busy street, they might think you’re a jerk, but they probably won’t shoot you. If you bump into a man who is peeing as you try to locate a urinal in the men’s room, that is a more serious situation. So you ricochet. When I was a kid playing cowboys versus Germans and someone shot me, I would jump in the air and say “Ping! Just a ricochet!” This now works with objects and people. Since you are always expecting to collide with something, you are primed to respond with a quick “Whoa!” And bounce back, kind of like it never happened, or it was the fault of the collidee. It’s amazing how well this works and how often people apologize after I have initiated full body contact.
But the number of collisions grew, and I began to suspect I needed a better strategy. And then I fell down a flight of stairs – they are surprisingly hard – and I knew I needed to try something else.
That meant orientation and mobility training with a white cane. It was the hardest class I’ve ever taken.
More about that next time.