by Parnell Diggs
From the Editor: This is a powerful story in which good intentions collide with good sense and in which underestimation of a blind father results in the overturning of a glass. Here is how this story was introduced to Kernel Book readers in Freedom: We often say that the real problem of blindness is not the lack of eyesight but is the lack of understanding about it. The truth of that statement is borne out forcefully in this story by Parnell Diggs. Here is what he has to say:
My long white cane extended, I walked into a hotel restaurant one Thursday with my wife and nineteen-month-old son. I asked for a Braille menu, and Kim and I began talking. Our family was being observed (I soon learned) by two ladies at a nearby table.
Jordan played with his toys while we made decisions about lunch. Kim and Jordan were having the buffet, and Daddy (everybody knows I love a good sandwich) was instructed to put Jordan in his highchair as soon as I had ordered off of the menu.
From his highchair, Jordan was unable to disturb the drinks I had made certain were across the table beyond his reach. “I bet he wants his milk,” a lady from the nearby table said striding over and placing the Styrofoam cup in front of my son.
I grabbed the cup and gave Jordan a sip of milk. “Say thank you,” I prodded knowing the plastic lid and straw were not designed to prevent spills by toddlers. Moving the cup again out of harm’s way, I sat down and awaited Kim’s return from the buffet line.
The low-pitched thud against a container full of liquid, the soaked tablecloth, and the embarrassed laughter of the two ladies on the other side of the highchair created an awkwardness which could have been avoided if the two ladies had not been so well intentioned.
As a favor to me, they had gently placed Jordan’s cup in front of him a second time on their way out of the restaurant not realizing that I had deliberately placed it where he couldn’t reach it. I jumped up, “Yeah, pull him away from the table,” one of them said as I checked Jordan’s clothes which were still dry.
Could they have imagined that I am a self-employed attorney with a wife who works at home? In their wildest dreams, could they have realized that I was there to preside at a business meeting that weekend that would be attended by 350 persons?
Put a white cane in my hand, and I became a blind man who didn’t know that my son couldn’t reach his milk. “You may want to get help,” they suggested. “It’s running onto the floor.” I guess they figured out why I had put Jordan’s milk where he couldn’t reach it.
A sighted parent may have done the same thing as opposed simply to holding a child’s hands down. Without a “Sippy cup,” I made a judgment call, and they had made a judgment call too. They knew that I was blind.
Rather than assuming that I had put the cup out of reach on purpose because my nineteen-month-old son could not yet hold that type of cup, the ladies who had been observing us assumed that I, being blind, didn’t know where I had put it.
This spilled milk was definitely worth crying over, but not because we had to change tables and ask for more milk. In their minds, my life experience was irrelevant. Jordan (though still a toddler) had already exceeded the competence of his blind father.
The ladies who would give Jordan his milk so he could spill it would not give me a job so I could buy it.
The tears I shed are a result of the knowledge that my son will very soon come to know that people think his father is incapable of providing for himself, his family, and incapable even of doing something so fundamental as giving his son his milk.
Jordan will be told that he is less fortunate than other children are because his dad is blind—but thanks to the National Federation of the Blind he won’t believe it. Blindness is not a tragedy. With proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to the level of a mere physical nuisance. I am determined that this is the message of blindness that my son will hear most.