An Eye-Opening Experience…literally.

I have been looking forward to this challenge since I first opened up the envelope. It is one of the more unique challenges I’ve been given and I was incredibly anxious to do it!

Challenge #16:

“Lady Kathryn, I would like for you to go to a public place (with a buddy) and blindfold yourself. Navigate the space (with the buddy close by) for 1 hour.

Since my mom is blind I feel strongly about people understanding this disability and how folks manage with it.” -from Meredith Comin

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Meredith is another friend of mine from Junior League. We had the pleasure of meeting when she stepped in to fill a roll in a fundraiser we were planning, Cinsation 2011. We became friends pretty much from the moment I met her. But how could I not? This girl is the sweetest southern belle, both inside and out. I bet she bleeds sweet tea. 😉 And we wear the same size shoes. And she has awwwesome shoes. Bonus. I can count on her for level headed advice, a great laugh or just plain pleasant company.

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Meredith’s mom, Peggy, is blind. I asked Meredith to provide me with some background on Peggy so that I could share the experience with you.

She was blinded at the age of 2 in a horribly unfortunate accident. Some people would let this define them. If anything, I’d say she defined it. She attended public school until 9th grade, when she enrolled in a private HS and learned to read and write Braille beginning in the 2nd grade. Throughout her childhood, she had several attempts at a corneal transplant which were unsuccessful.

When Meredith was 1, Peggy gave the corneal transplant another go and it gave her back the ability to distinguish between light and dark and very bright colors. Then, about 5 years ago, she had another transplant that provided a great deal more vision. Meredith has told me this before and it never occurred to me to that body language was so visual. She explained that she thought people spoke like porcelain dolls – that only your mouth moved. She had no idea how animated people are or that you use your hands, your head moves, your eyes blink, etc. Her incredible independence can be attributed to Meredith’s grandmother raising her as though she did not have a disability. “Plus, Peg is just as fierce and motivated as can be :)”

Speaking of motivated, let’s talk about all that she has accomplished!! She received her undergraduate degree in English from Florida State (GO NOLES!) and Master of Elementary Guidance Counseling, Master of Rehabilitation Counseling from Georgia State University. She is currently expected to complete her Master of Creative Writing in 2013 from Kennesaw State University. She works as a Rehabilitation Counselor for the Georgia Department of Rehab. She is a long-standing member of the Junior League and has been a Sustainer in the JL of Atlanta for over 20 years. She has been married to her husband Bill for 36 years and raised two incredible children. I mean. WOW! Talk about impressive!

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I also asked Meredith to tell me what it was like growing up with a visually-impaired mom.

“Growing up, I certainly had to do things such as read the mail, double-check the stove and burners, help coordinate outfits and act as a chauffeur. However, I don’t know any different so while I understand this is not what most people experience, it’s all I know. You learn to keep floors and hallways clear, though my beloved mother is forever misplacing her shoes and sunglasses! She’s never had a guide dog and has always done it on her own. She is truly my hero and I feel as though I’m a better person for having her as my mom.”
Well, she raised you so I’m darn glad she was your mom, too!
So I have been thinking about this challenge on and off since February. It was one of the first cards to come back in and I’m so glad it happened when it did. July has been an exceptionally gorgeous month. From the sunsets over Walloon Lake, to the fireworks on the 4th of July and the splendor that is the Missouri country side, I’ve been in awe for the past 31 days.
Jenna and I just came back from an incredible weekend visiting our best friend Courtney in St. Louis. While we were there, we took a party bus around to a bunch of different wineries in the area of Augusta. I am not exagerating when I say this. It literally could not have been a more perfect day. Blue bird sky, scattered with a few clouds, 75 degrees. Perfect. Jenna and I drove home on Sunday through the hills of the midwest on another equally gorgeous day. The thought that I was returning to Cincinnati to complete this challenge never left my mind. The beauty of everything I saw was a constant reminder of how lucky I am to be able to see it.
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Meredith and I decided to complete this challenge at Washington Park, a newly renovated green space in the heart of OTR. I headed down early to snap some photos and reacquaint myself with the lay of the land. They host a farmers market on Mondays and I thought this would be the perfect spot. It would have plenty of people, I could buy something, I was familiar enough with the area that it made me feel comfortable, it is full of commotion and, finally, the sounds. There are so many sounds. Every time I’m there I notice all of the different things going on.
Meredith did what is called “Sighted Guide” with me around the park. I held onto her arm, based on which side was more comfortable, and she walked around the park for about an hour and a half. Christy was with us for most of it, as well. We ran into people I knew, but I could not distinguish who they were. One gave me a surprise poke on the rear end and scared the living daylights out of me.
I brought my GoPro camera to record the whole experience, but the footage didn’t turn out so great. I had it positioned on my head, but it was facing the sky most of the time. Also, just to prove how bad I am at being blind, I thought I turned it on, but I didn’t. Hahah…big surprise there… In another example of my undisputed brilliance, I forgot to bring a blindfold. Thankfully, Christy just happened to have one in her office that was a block away. We went to 3CDC, got situated and headed back out to the park.
I decided to test my strengths and see if I could manage enjoying a frozen treat from Gerry at Chill, an organic shaved ice vendor at the farmers market. Meredith read the flavors to me and naturally, she ordered the Georgia Peach. Sadly, they were out of it so we both settled on Strawberry Limeaide. Eating without being able to see is difficult and relatively messy. I couldn’t find the straw with my mouth and kept missing the cup when I tried to jab at it to break up the chunks. I guess I need vision for depth perception. The most interesting part about this experience was paying. I realized that I had no way of distinguishing which bill was for which dollar value. Thankfully, Gerry was very nice and told me, but I can see how people could get ripped off all the time. After that, we tried to wash my hands off in the fountain. Thankfully, Meredith was great at directing me and I didn’t get soaked.
We went up and down the steps of the bandstand, crossed intersections, and wandered all around the park and surrounding areas. We met people, played with dogs, purchased some local honey (the best medicine in the world for allergies or a cough), and even spoke with some local press. A guy from Local 12 was interviewing park visitors on their thoughts on NSA. I promptly said, “No I don’t want to answer your questions. I’ll end up on Jimmy Kimmel Live in the segment about people that don’t know what they’re talking about.” He asked about my blog too (maybe because I was standing there with a bright red blind fold and a GoPro Camera on my head). Maybe they’ll call and want to do a segment! Who knows…
I noticed a few things in particular and some others that Meredith pointed out to me. The rest of my senses became significantly stronger. I was hearing things I’d never noticed before. I enjoyed trying to identify them, as well. I also noticed that people really do treat you differently. For example, whenever anyone would approach us to see what was going on, they would always ask Meredith what was happening instead of talking to me. I just wanted to shout “I’m BLIND not DEAF!” Also, my sense of direction was totally thrown off. As we wandered through the park I listened for familiar sounds, felt around and checked out the grounds to try and evaluate where I was or what direction I was facing. I was wrong 99% of the time I checked for clarification. When talking with people, I had to ask Meredith for confirmation that I was, in fact, looking at them or at least in their general direction. People generally moved out of my way and a lot of interest was generated in what I was doing. One little boy was, however, incredibly disappointed that I was not actually blind. Sorry to let you down, dear…
To accompany the physical portion of my adventure, Peggy sent me a little package! Enclosed were my name typed in Braille, the Braille alphabet and a little message for me to translate. It took me a little bit and I made it through the first half without peeking, but admittedly cheated on the second half. It was unintentional, but I had to know if I was right!! I believe it says “Have a marvelous summer and stay cool…try swimming.”
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I’ve been anticipating this adventure for awhile now and in the last few weeks I started thinking of all the things I would have missed out on if I weren’t able to see. I would have no idea what my niece looks like. I wouldn’t be able to get myself ready to go places. I happen to love doing my makeup and I attempted to do it without opening my eyes. Let’s just say that was a disaster and leave it at that. And while this may sound fairly narcissistic (because it is), I LOVE looking at myself in the mirror. Not every one, specifically every woman, can say they look in the mirror and like what they see. I happen to enjoy it. I like to know that things are in place and that I look presentable. Sue me.
Beyond that, I am a very visual person. Specifically, I am a visual learner. I like to see things to understand them. I imagine things in my mind that I never would have been able to imagine had I never seen them before. I never would have gotten through high school. I pictured the loose leaf pages of paper that I’d scribble notes all over every time I took a test. I could tell you exactly what they looked like and where everything was written. I remember what people were wearing or what their faces look like. I don’t know how I’d ever remember who anyone was if I couldn’t see them. Meredith said something to me that struck me the other day. She said that her mom doesn’t know what she looks like. It broke my heart. I cannot imagine what that must be like.
Most importantly to me on a personal level, my love of photography would be non-existent. I absolutely cannot imagine living life without the ability to capture it on film. I get a lot of grief for how many times I snap photos of things on my phone, but that is because the moment meant something to me and I wanted to share it with the world. I wish everyone got as excited as I do about clouds and sunsets and flowers and trees. In fact, I can’t understand why they don’t. It’s magnificent. Nature is really freaking awesome. And I want to take pictures of all of it. All of these breathtaking adventures I’ve been on would have been a whole lot less enjoyable without my sense of sight…
Here are some of the photographs I’ve taken along the way…
A bee pollenating some Alaskan Fireweed

A bee pollenating some Alaskan Fireweed

A Bald Eagle perched on some old pylons

A Bald Eagle perched on some old pylons

Alaskan fireweed with Saginaw in the background

Alaskan fireweed with Skagway in the background

A Bald Eagle in flight

A Bald Eagle in flight

Humpback Whale breaks the surface

Humpback Whale breaks the surface

Sunrise over the boundary waters in Canada

Sunrise over the boundary waters in Canada

A glacial melt waterfall in the Tracy Arm Fjord

A glacial melt waterfall in the Tracy Arm Fjord

Sunset in Boca Grande, FL. Easily my most favorite thing to watch in the world...

Sunset in Boca Grande, FL. Easily my most favorite thing to watch in the world…

I'd never know what this beautiful face looked like.

I’d never know what this beautiful face looked like.

My sister, Abbey, paddle boarding into the sunset

My sister, Abbey, paddle boarding into the sunset

Walloon Sunset

Walloon Sunset

Walloon Sunset

Walloon Sunset

Walloon Sunset

Walloon Sunset

I learned some pretty valuable lessons on this little excursion! I will never again take advantage of my ability to see. I am clumsy enough as it is. I’ll leave you with a quote…
“I hope I never become so used to the world that it no longer seems wonderful.”
Open your eyes. Take a look around. Really enjoy what you’re seeing because not everyone can.
See you next week!

3 thoughts on “An Eye-Opening Experience…literally.

  1. Katie, This particular entry deeply touched me … made me cry, in fact. I am so proud of what you’re doing, and so amazed by your ability to articulate it! How rich and rewarding these experiences must be for you! I love you! Dad

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