by Meagan Houle
From the Editor: Megan Houle of Alberta, Canada, has a blog entitled Where’s Your Dog?, and from it we at the Monitor came across a fantastic article about transitioning deeper into blindness, about grieving the loss of a sense, and about making it in the world anyway. Here is Megan’s article, and there is more where this came from on her blog at https://wheresyourdog.com:
Sighted people are always caught off guard by how casually I treat my vision loss, whose inexorable progression began the day I came into the world. While I understand the assumption that vision loss is all sadness, all the time, that isn’t the case for me. If my vision was ever good enough to accomplish useful tasks like driving, or fun things like painting, I’d likely be far more bereft. As it is, what little vision I was born with is more liability than blessing, becoming increasingly burdensome as it dwindles.
The one thing I occasionally allow myself to mourn is the loss of color perception. Though my understanding of color was never perfect, my childhood is filled with memories of gazing with fascination at anything brightly colored, especially in nature. Now that I’m all grown up and my vision loss is more advanced, I don’t reliably notice color unless I make a deliberate effort. Even then it’s hit or miss.
I’ve always known I’d eventually lose all my color perception, but over the past few months, I’d begun to view that loss as part of my present, not my future. It was no longer on the horizon. It was upon me, happening in real-time, and I couldn’t deny that it seemed to be slipping away more quickly every day.
The way I saw it, I had two options: I could lament its vanishing and write more soppy posts about it, or I could give it a send-off worth remembering. I chose the second option. I wanted to infuse this time in my vision loss journey with joy and gratitude, focusing on what I had rather than what I’ll lose. To that end I enlisted the help of my charming and devastatingly attractive friend Krissi. (Did she pay me to say that? You decide.) She fell in love with my vision (ha ha) and planned the most colorful day she could imagine: a plant crawl. All day long we visited various greenhouses, including the Muttart Conservatory and Greenland Garden Centre, exploring plants from around the world. There was more color than I had the capacity to process, and it truly was a feast for my eyes and soul.
Surrounded by vibrant flowers and exotic trees, I got all the color-gazing I could ever want. I also discovered something else. Interacting with plants is a surprisingly tactile experience if you have a brave and patient plant expert like Krissi nearby to keep you from impaling yourself on a cactus. I’d always thought of plants as delicate things that didn’t like to be touched, and there was the looming threat of insects that would make their displeasure painfully known. In these climate-controlled environments, I was able to gently acquaint myself with the glossiness of banana leaves and the shapely curvature of a fruit tree. I stroked roughly textured bark and soft foliage that rivaled felt. I found a leaf that looked exactly like a feather, with its slightly downy grain. I touched leaves so fuzzy they felt like peaches and other leaves that felt like nothing so much as the rough but cozy blanket my grandfather might drape over the back of his rocking chair. I discovered creepy-feeling succulents and graceful, delicate herbs. Krissi nearly had to tear me away from a plant that appeared to have sprouted its very own umbrellas. There was so much to touch that I occasionally forgot I was primarily there to look.
The biggest surprise came when we stopped off at Krissi’s house so she could teach me the tricky art of flower arrangement—another chiefly tactile activity. I assumed it was all about doing whatever looks prettiest, but I soon realized that what felt symmetrical was the most reliable test for what would look fabulous in a vase. To my immense delight, I learned that rookies use their eyes, while pros use their hands. Krissi patiently showed me how to trim stems, strip leaves, and thread flowers through my fingers in an awkward X shape. Thread, twist. Thread, twist. Thread, twist. Snip … Boom! I suddenly had a gorgeous bouquet, which made it look like I really knew what I was doing. (I still don’t, but photographic evidence of my triumph will forever suggest otherwise. Tell no one.)
As I cleared away the pile of stems I’d cut and sat back to admire an arrangement so bright I could actually see it, I experienced the air of celebration I’d hoped to inspire. I knew I’d soon see the world in shades of grey and that not long after that I’d see nothing at all. But in that moment, I sat back and absorbed the incredible gift I’d been given, which was no less wonderful for its impermanence.
I’m sure that sadder times are ahead of me, with a blind community that is so often dismissive of partially sighted pain. I do not expect to remain this philosophical and high-minded about it all. I will have days where I’m grumpy about this slow march to darkness, even though I am already blind for most intents and purposes. But I’ll always have the comforting knowledge that I can live well and happily, color or no color, light or no light. And I’m lucky to have enjoyed both, if only for a while.