Future Reflections Special Issue, Vol. 14 No. 2
by Lauren L. Eckery
Reprinted from What Color is the Sun an NFB Kernel Book
Sighted people are often intensely interested in how blind people experience the world. If you can't see something does it matter to you? Should it matter to you? Can blind and sighted people share visual experiences together? Or do the blind and sighted live in separate "worlds"? Are they incapable of ever understanding and sharing friendships (or even deeper relationships) with each other? Here is what Lauren Eckery, a blind woman from Nebraska, has to say about that.
The burning hot sun of midsummer is shining brightly today as I sit out here on the patio beginning to write. What "color" the sun is is not particularly relevant to me at this moment. I know that for some blind people the color of the sun or, for that matter, what anything looks like visually, seems irrelevant. I do not take this view, however. I am highly interested in my world, including what things look like. There are those who might insist that this could not be so.
Shared individual positive experiences can help us learn to believe in ourselves. This is what the National Federation of the Blind is truly all about. To this end I relate the following experience: Several weeks ago my eight-year-old daughter, Lynden, asked: "Mommy, what color is the sun?" She blinks and often sneezes upon looking directly at the sun. Was it possible that she never looked long enough to notice the color of the sun? Was she testing me to see if I knew the color of the sun? What answer did she expect to get from me, the standard "yellow"? I am totally blind since birth due to congenital glaucoma. I have no vision in the left eye. Before glaucoma took my right eye, I could see light, dark, and blobs of color. I cried the evening before the surgery, panicked a few times immediately thereafter, and that was it.
I was not bitter about never seeing another sunset, because I knew that in my mind's eye I could conjure one up easily enough if I wanted to do so. Perhaps this is similar to the manner in which Beethoven was able to write some of his best music when he could no longer hear--he had a good mind, and he used it. I told Lynden that in the middle of the day the sun is said to be yellow, although it always looked white to me. I explained that toward sunset the color could change from a brighter yellow, becoming more and more orange, sometimes setting in a brilliant red-orange ball with other colors around it (clouds, I surmised). When this occurs, the bright fiery ball on the horizon looks as though it is resting on the ground, quite far away. Eventually it disappears. Sometimes the clouds hide this color. Often the sun does just the opposite at sunrise.
Sunrises and sunsets can vary. Artists have painted them; writers have described them in words. Some people often do not notice them at all, but they are there.
"I've never seen the sun change color like that. Why does it change color? Why does it look like the sun is on the ground?" she asked, curiously. Her questions were getting beyond me. I didn't know enough about the physical properties of light, color, refraction, and distance, plus the rotation of the earth, etc., to explain it all to her. Anxiously I said: "Ask your science teacher when school starts again."
With a sigh of relief, I presumed the subject closed, only to hear: "Mommy, could you see rays coming out of the sun?" I told her I couldn't.
"Me neither," she replied. "Then why do people make pictures of the sun with rays coming out all around it?" she continued. I thought: "Ask your art teacher when school starts again." However, being somewhat more artistic than scientific, I explained that maybe it was an artistic way to show that light and heat were coming from all directions from the yellow circle which represented the sun in the pictures. That was the end of the discussion for the time being.
I believe that Lynden was surprised by the answer she got from a totally blind person. I was equally astonished that a sighted child would bother to ask a totally blind person to describe something visual, taking the answer seriously. I believe we both learned something extremely valuable from this experience.
The knowledge gained and the joy received from this experience were made evident this past weekend as we were riding the bus home from Kansas City to Omaha. Lynden had been sleeping, and I was listening to my tape recorder. Suddenly she shouted, with obvious delight, "Mommy, the sun is orange and it is on the ground just like you said." (It looked like it was on the ground.) "It is red-orange, and it's pretty. I've never seen that before."
I was aware that if I had believed all of the stereotypes about blindness, that I would never have done such a normal thing as to get married and have a child--one I was now sharing a sunset with--because I might have believed that a blind person couldn't take care of a child independently. I was thankful for this National Federation of the Blind-influenced blessing. I was also aware at that moment that this sunset might have gone unnoticed by both of us had we not had our previous discussion. Certainly it would not have been a life-or-death disaster to have missed the sunset, but there was a particular joy in our sharing, "What color is the sun?"