Braille Monitor                                                             February 2007

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The Troubled Fish

by Daniel B. Frye

Dan FryeThe Thanksgiving holiday this year brought reunion and celebration to my family. My sister Debbie and her daughters Kayla and Katelyn came from Omaha, Nebraska, to visit my wife Renee and me at our new home in Baltimore. I had not spent a holiday with my immediate family since my childhood, some twenty years before. In fact circumstances have allowed us to visit Debbie and our nieces only a few times during the last ten years. As a result we all looked forward to sharing this season of gratitude and reflection.

En route from the airport to our home I provided commentary on the parts of Baltimore through which we traveled: the historic Federal Hill neighborhood and the bustling Inner Harbor, where Baltimore residents enjoy dining and entertainment. After my regular taxi driver dropped us off, I oriented Debbie and the girls to our home, and they all settled in for a well-deserved week of rest and relaxation.

The plan for the week included both frenetic sightseeing and unstructured time at home getting ready for our long-awaited traditional Thanksgiving meal together. Two of the highlights were a survey of Baltimore’s attractions as seen from both land and sea on the Duck, an amphibious World-War-II-era vehicle, and an end-of-season cruise down the Magothy River on a friend’s boat. I purchased decks of standard and Uno playing cards labeled in print and Braille to help occupy us all as we gathered around the dining room table, consumed by a little friendly family competition. In short, the visit was shaping up to be memorable for all of us.

Throughout my relationship with my family, and particularly with my impressionable nieces, I have tried by word and deed to convey a positive image of blindness. I have striven to demonstrate, through my successful employment, independent travel, and the day-to-day handling of mundane tasks like money management and personal hygiene, the ability and normalcy of blind people. I think my efforts at positive education about blindness have largely worked.

On the second day of their visit I took Debbie, Kayla, and Katelyn to Baltimore’s National Aquarium, a renowned collection of thousands of aquatic animals housed in three buildings occupying several city blocks and linked by corridors, providing education and recreation for aquarium patrons. Debbie and the girls were fascinated by the obscure sea life on display. The rockfish, creatures almost indistinguishable from stones, and the dolphin exhibits were highlights of our visit.

The exhibit that captured the attention of all of us and provided the occasion for this reflection, though, was the showcase on blind fish. Presented under the caption “the troubled fish,” a narrator talked about the alternative skills these blind fish develop in order to function in their environment. As one might imagine, they adapt to their world using their other senses to find food; they exist efficiently in their habitat. Despite the disturbing title of the display, the accompanying explanation of the animal’s capacity for self-sufficiency was quite positive. Why then, we all wondered, the despairing character of the title?

One of us, however, was more disturbed than the rest. Katelyn, age eight, blurted, “Those fish aren’t troubled; they’re just blind.” Implicitly she was asking “What’s the big deal? Blindness doesn’t have to equal trouble.”

As we left the aquarium, I felt some pride in Katelyn’s observation. Clearly my indirect campaign to model a positive image of blindness was paying dividends. While Katelyn still has periodic questions, it was obvious from this encounter that she has intuitively grasped the notion that blindness can be managed and need not be troublesome.

Thursday of this memorable week brought Thanksgiving Day. As we gathered around the table, I was grateful that the fundamental message of the National Federation of the Blind—that blindness is only one of many normal characteristics—was well on its way to being understood by the next generation of my family. An increasing acceptance of this principle by our sighted families, friends, and neighbors is something for which all committed Federationists should feel thankful at this and every time of year. Our work is clearly paying off.

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