by Bruce Gardner
From the Editor: As readers of previous Kernel Books know Bruce Gardner spent a good bit of time as a boy trying to convince himself and others that he was not really blind. He did so because he did not believe that it was respectable to be blind. In this current story he reminds himself that although success can be measured by many outward signs, for it to be real there must be inner peace. Here is what he has to say:
What is success and how is it measured? Is one a success by being a senior attorney with a major corporation, president of his home owners’ association, precinct committeeman for his local political party, High Priest and member of the High Council at his church, and scout troop official?
Should one be considered successful if he lives in a nearly five-thousand-square-foot house on a gentleman’s farm with a citrus orchard, pasture, and barn with horses, goats, pigs, ducks, geese, chickens, and other farm animals?
Or is success being happily married to a wonderful wife and having six bright, healthy, well-mannered, and well-adjusted children (three of whom are now teenagers)?
Perhaps. But it is hard to feel successful unless one is at peace with one’s self. As one who grew up blind in a predominantly sighted society it was not easy to imagine being successful or easy to find that peace. The blind are generally regarded as incapable of doing much of anything.
I certainly grew up with all the same negative misconceptions about blindness, never mind the fact that I was blind. It was not until I found the National Federation of the Blind that I was able to begin making significant strides on the road to success.
I remember several years ago when I was the scouting coordinator between our church and the Boy Scouts of America. We had a youth swimming party for all of the youth at our church including the scouts. All of the kids were having fun ganging up on their leaders and throwing them in the pool. The teen-age girls were ganging up on their women advisors, and the boys were ganging up on the men. All except for me.
As scouting coordinator I had been with the twelve- and thirteen-year-old scouts at most of their weekly activities and on a number of outings and hikes, and was a full participant in all the physical activities and roughhousing, yet no one grabbed me and tried to throw me in the water.
I began feeling very left out, so I left the pool area and decided to get some watermelon. Because we were running low on sliced melon I decided to cut some more. A good friend of mine walked up and would not let me cut the watermelon. He said, “Here, let me do that.”
I said, “That’s okay. I’ll do it; I slice watermelon all the time.”
But he insisted, saying, “No, I’d better cut the watermelon. That knife is sharp.” With that, he took the knife from my hand.
I was already feeling very conspicuous because I was the only youth leader there who had not been physically gang tackled and thrown into the pool. When my good friend refused to let me slice more watermelon, that was all I could take, so I left the party.
I was so angry and hurt that I could not think straight. When I finally cooled off a few days later, I was disappointed that I had allowed myself to be affected that way.
The next day I sent my friend a letter and tried to explain why his attitude about my cutting the watermelon had bothered me so much. My friend called to apologize and say that he was genuinely touched and impressed by my letter.
By then I had cooled off a little, and I apologized for allowing myself to get upset. After all, I had spent years selling myself short and assuming I could not do many things. Why should I expect my friend to act any differently?
I have tried to learn from these experiences and not allow others’ attitudes and actions to affect my attitude. In small ways I think I am progressing on the road to success. For example, my law office is on the eighteenth floor of a twenty-story building in downtown Phoenix. A few weeks ago as I stepped into the elevator along with an acquaintance from the building, he commented that the light was out in the elevator. When the doors closed it was pitch dark inside.
The other man in the elevator then said, “Now we’re equal.” I considered saying that there were a number of things besides the ability to see that would have to be considered before that judgment could be made. But I didn’t. I just politely laughed and said, “Right.” It would have done no good to get upset or offended.
One does not have to be an attorney, president of an organization, or live in a big house in order to be successful. But regardless of how one measures success, one can hardly truly feel successful if little things in life get him angry.
I am grateful to the National Federation of the Blind for giving me the confidence to know that I can be a successful, productive member of society, and I am particularly grateful for the realization that in order truly to progress on the road to success, I must also be at peace with myself and the world and not let negative misconceptions about blindness affect me in my own heart.