As someone who began life with vision, with the ability to see a sunrise, a flower, play with friends in fields and woods only to lose the beauty and majesty that vision provides could seem soul crushing. There is a debate in the blind and visually impaired community that asks the question, “What is worse, to be born blind or to lose your vision later in life?” There truly is no answer because it is a matter of individual experience. Your blindness is yours, it is a personal journey that diverges from any norm known because we are all unique. We come from different countries, cultures, social and economic backgrounds. So much goes into what shapes our experience that it is impossible to answer that question. However, what can be answered is how do we choose to react to what life has dealt us? In the midst of something that seems unfair and cruel how do we sustain hope? Dealing with a disability that separates us from much of the human herd how do we find our purpose and ultimately our own happiness? Now, I will never claim to have the answers, however, I can say without hesitation that I am seeking, pondering and willing to share some of the conclusions I have come to for myself. As a writer, my goal is to write and share information, some of it factual, some of it is opinion but all of it is done as a resource for others in their journey. Several years ago I was asked by someone why I was always so happy, why I wasn’t mad at life for dealing me a bum hand when it came to being blind. I answered them and then like any decent writer I immediately wrote my answer down for future use. Here was my answer, full disclosure here, I fancied it up a bit over time and turned it into a quote but the answer is in there:
“My secret to happiness and to life is simple. I maintain no illusions nor do I have any delusions about controlling what happens to me. However, on the flip side I do have total control over how I choose to react to any given situation. This realization ushers in the reality of ultimate control. Once I understood that freedom, true freedom, comes from how I reacted it allowed me to break the bonds that held happiness at a distance. My path became mine and mine alone and the yoke of responsibility became lighter because I now had control. I was free to maneuver through, over and around the obstacles rather than being frustrated by them. I was no longer a victim to be pitied instead I became the master of my destiny. By E.L. Burton
Figuring out that our freedom comes from how we reacted has become the foundationhave built my life on. It is the bedrock that the framework began to take shape on. Over the years I developed the rules that would govern my life. Principles and beliefs that were more than merely words, these were actions, tried and true. Early on I developed 4 imperatives, 4 rules that I would live by and still to this day remain as rules that ground my existence. Again, they come in the form of a quote I penned:
“Anything is possible. Being blind causes me to take unusual steps in accomplishing things. Step 1- don’t let them see your weakness, move and act with confidence. Step 2- think outside the box, be steadfast in your belief that it can be done and there is a way to accomplish it in spite of a disability. Step 3- remember that if you can’t see the world, make the world see you. And step 4- accept, adopt, adapt and then advance. There is no time for complaining, lamenting or feeling sorry for yourself, those are just excuses that prove an unwillingness to accept step four as reality.” By E.L. Burton
These were important rules because as I lived, as doors closed, people told me there were certain things that simply were not possible. I couldn’t accept that so the rules were born, the first beginning with the words “Anything is Possible…” Case in point. I was a 38 year old business professional when I had “eyesight.” When that door closed, when the company that I worked for said, sorry, we can't accommodate that. When I interviewed after losing that job with other companies, they couldn’t see past my blindness and thanked me for coming in but, no thank you. At that point, the business world refused to “See Me” so now I had to take my new basket of disappointment lemons and turn it into sweet refreshing lemonade. I had always dreamed of being a writer, a dream many scoffed at when I was young but one that I had held on to. So, now fresh out of options, I began to write. Small things at first, eventually I found myself on the op-ed pages, then a book, then another, then writing for others. The point is, anything is possible if you are willing to work for it, I mean really put in the time, the effort, the rejection, overcoming the self-imposed doubts and meager existence for the promise of attaining your objective. Too often people get knocked down, knocked around and simply quit. They begin to believe in the victim mentality, that life isn't fair, that they are uniquely alone in their trial. The truth is, they are not.
Along this journey I have been on I have met some pretty incredible people. Blind, just like you, just like me. Blind people who have hiked Mount Everest. Blind people who have run in the Boston Marathon. Become musicians, artists and wildly successful in business. Two weeks ago, I had dinner with Michael Hingson. Michael survived the terror attacks of 911. He made it out of the towers of The World Trade Center moments before they came down, 78 floors to determine if he lived or died on that day. Michael was born blind and believe me when I say this, he is an amazing man and someone I am proud to now call my friend. Michael such a happy, hopeful and inspirational man who inspires me. Many of you may not be aware that Steve Wynn the Las Vegas billionaire suffers from the exact same disease that I have, Retinitis Pigmentosa or RP. Gordon Gund owned the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise, also a billionaire, blind just like me and suffers from RP. I could go on and on with examples of people who suffer as we suffer but prosper in spite of that suffering.
“Suffering is inevitable, it is an unavoidable dynamic of the human experience. Suffering is not a permanent condition. It is not a punitive punishment handed down by a vindictive God rather it is a gift. It is the mortar that binds the building blocks of character. It is through suffering that we discover our abilities and realize our strength. Suffering is a path we must walk in our quest to discover and achieve our purpose.” By E.L. Burton
I believe, with no reservations or doubt that Successful people choose to adapt to their environment rather than waiting for or expecting their environment to adapt to them. The point to this article, this particular piece, is to inspire those among us who find themselves at the bottom of the grieving process when it comes to being or going blind. Many will encourage you to simply seek out your disability benefits, to now go quietly into that great night. They will coddle you, tell you how sorry they are, discourage you from reaching beyond your grasp for fear that your disappointment will be too much for you to handle. They will play on your weakness and feed your victimhood and if you are not careful, you will begin to buy what they are selling. My challenge is simple, believe that you are capable of great things. Be the author of your own story, the master of your own destiny. Do not let your blindness define you, write your own definition. Hope and happiness are yours to be had, not given but earned. I am still striving to deserve happiness, I am hopeful because my journey isn't over. I leave you with this final quote:
“We all have our cross to bear, mine was losing my eyesight and consequently my freedom, my ability to simply go and do what I wanted when I wanted to. But in losing that perception of freedom I was guided to a state of true liberation…. Imagination trumps reality in the mind of the man who cannot see.” By E.L. Burton
This article was inspired by meeting my new friend, Michael Hingson, pictured below and mentioned in this piece.
Picture of Michael Hingson on the left, me on the right and Michael's Guide Dog Alamo at our feet.