|In the seventh grade, when I had to memorize a poem, I chose a sonnet by John Milton, probably because it was short. However, since it has had an impact all these years and I can still recite it, word for word, I must conclude, I chose wisely.
John Milton’s eyesight deteriorated into total blindness when he was in his forties. The poem he wrote was “On His Blindness.”
Perhaps because so much of what I do depends on the ability to use my eyesight, I have often thought of Milton’s disability. How he chose to accept it and overcome it is an inspiration. He believed a man is judged not by what he accomplishes but instead whether he accomplishes it to the best of his ability and in spite of his disability.
What is it like to suffer this physical disability? With it, what could one still accomplish?
How about a test? Simulate blindness by stuffing black socks into eye caves held by a shoe string, a tightly tied shoe string. I’ve been in blindfold situations before and I always tried to cheat by looking over, under, around or through. This time I'm motivated to simulate true blindness, so I pull on the string until there’s nothing but blackness. All set - now for the test. Go from the bathroom through the bed room and living room, up the stairs to the computer work station and type “Mary had a little lamb.” Your fingers know where the proper keys are, don’t they?
How’d it go? Not too shabby, but that doesn’t mean true blindness is easy. I had to do everything at a slower pace. It helped that I often traverse the same path in low light situations. Also, I remembered where everything is, including the baskets of plastic Easter eggs on the stairs that should have been put away. They’ve been there so long my feet automatically work their way around them. No problem with the keyboard; didn’t miss a letter. We need a harder test.
New test: Take coffee cup to kitchen, place in dishwasher, let the dog out the back door, stick around until she’s ready to come back in, give her a treat, return to the keyboard and type the date.
The test was better, but still no big problems. When I got outside with the dog I had no idea where she was or what she was doing. I should trade her in on a seeing-eye dog. Sounds and touch play a bigger role in the darkness. Four distinct types of birds and the air conditioner cycling caught my attention. There was a soft breeze rustling the leaves. I usually ignore such routine sounds. My bare feet told me where I was as I went from deck to carpet to brick floor. The dog made it back inside, and I struggled up the stairs, although not without scraping my toe on an misplaced box of Easter decorations. My fingers don’t do so well with keyboard numbers, so I typed: March twenty one owwo thousand eleven.
I’ve decided that entering the dark is not so daring; it’s another thing entirely to dwell forever in darkness. Even the experiments would soon become tedious. But it’s not so much the coping but doing without that would bother me. Looking out the window next to my desk at the breeze spinning emerald leaves of spring, shadows dancing on the garden wall and puffy clouds drifting through azure skies and knowing Milton saw none of those things for over twenty years of his life is a sobering thought.