Braille Monitor               February 2024

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How Blessed to be Living a Life in which Gratitude Plays a Part

by Gary Wunder

Gary WunderSo often my life has been filled with blessings that I have considered them my right, my normal, and have therefore taken them for granted. Perhaps this is not unique, but in my case, it has meant failing to appreciate many things until after they are gone. At my most materialistic, the sadness has come when my long-play record that so degraded that my favorite singer came to sound like he was recording while traveling on a gravel road. Then there has been a tape that wore out or broke, a radio that stopped working.

Of course the more important losses have come in the form of people: relatives and friends who have died or moved away. But the saddest of the sad feelings come from my own action or inaction: people I have let slide out of my life. Only when I realize that I can’t or don't know how to recover the relationship do I feel the real pain for those I have let go. Each time that I am tempted to think of people or things is an obligation or something I'll get too later, I remember the pain and my vow not to keep making those same mistakes.

What can happen with objects and people can happen with organizations. It is harder to envision because organizations are shared with so many that it seems my role must be minor at best. The question then becomes: How important can my participation be?

When I listen to reasons why people want to back off and find myself starting to share in them, one of the first ones is “I’m tired.” There are four reasons I can identify for being tired. One of them is a state of depression that makes life so difficult to get through that one always feels exhausted. This is not something that I know how to address with advice. I have experienced it, and moving beyond that experience required both therapy and drugs. I feel great gratitude that my immersion into this kind of tiredness has happened only twice and has been short-lived.

The second reason for tiredness is that we have the mistaken belief that it is heroic to become exhausted and that seven to nine hours of sleep each day is a perfect waste of time. “You will have plenty of time to sleep when you are dead,” is a common refrain. However, we are learning about the many disadvantages of undervaluing sleep, including a shorter life, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s.

The third reason is boredom. How many times have you run into people who get up in the morning with nothing to do and at the end of the day only have it half done? What makes them tired that day is the same thing that made them tired yesterday and for the many yesterdays that came before. It is also the gloomy prospect that this is what will make them tired tomorrow, the day after, the day after that, and for as long into the future as they can see.

The fourth reason for tiredness is a quite different one, one that is gratifying rather than depressing, and one we have a greater ability to control. It is being tired because we have experienced a day full of activity. We may not have gotten everything done that we wanted, but we have used our time wisely, have enjoyed the effort, and believe that in some small way we have left the world better for some incredibly special people we care about. In doing this, we have also made the world better for ourselves and a more welcoming place to return to in the morning.

When I reflect on some of my most important blessings and contributions, the National Federation of the Blind plays prominently in my mind. I am thankful that it found a sixteen-year-old kid who thought that understanding blindness had more to do with being able to list out my limitations than it did the options that were truly available to me. I am grateful for the role models it provided who stretched my imagination and suggested that I think primarily about what I wanted to do as a human being and then consider what I would have to do to make that happen as a human being who is blind. I’m thankful for the techniques I’ve been taught that have meant I didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, and when new techniques have been required, I am glad to have been welcomed as we build upon that wheel so that it gets larger, covers more distance, and has more traction when the going gets rough.

When I find myself deciding that I have given my fair share, that I deserve to retire from the fray, and that it’s time for someone else to carry the load, I remind myself how tedious boredom can be, how excessive time for self-reflection can lead to despair, and how isolation and the loneliness that comes from it has not in the past led to happiness and there is little reason to believe it will in the future. I think about how easy it is to destroy a thing by failing to give it the attention it needs and how much more difficult it is to rebuild. Undoubtedly there will be a time when I cannot make contributions to the organization we share, but for as long as I can, I’m going to make sacrifices, and I’m going to set aside times such as Thanksgiving, New Year’s, and other important holidays to count my blessings, one of the foremost among them being the people who share in the love of our organization.

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