My hosts were in their usual good form. The food was excellent. The wine was flowing and the slow gin homemade.
The conversation was about the local fishmonger and the aspirations of young adult children, holidays taken and the long awaited driverless car. How the world has changed since we were young.
As a slave to pubic transport timetables and as someone who never goes anywhere without a pack on my back, a bag in my hand, or both, the driverless car offers a seductive freedom of movement that people with sight impairments can only dream of. Imagine being able to go wherever you like, whenever you chose and not having to carry your worldly goods on your back or ask for a lift or plan ahead. “Sign me up,” There was general incredulity that I could not see enough to drive, although I was not the only non-driver at the table.
In a seamless manoeuvre, a conversation unfolded in which my dining companions articulated their inner most fears of what would happen if they went blind. I seemed to be invisible. It wasn’t my conversation. My blind story tops yours would not do. I sat back and listened.
A man, of woman next to me acquaintance, had lost his sight over the course of twenty years. “It was a tragedy”. He had been good looking and now he couldn’t see his own face in the mirror. I fleetingly thought about tips on the application of mascara. Probably not helpful. “Can you imagine not seeing your own face. You’d be lost to yourself. You would have no idea who you were.” Luckily for me my sense of self does not derive from the blur in the mirror.
The poor unfortunate friend went from being able to read a menu to having to have the menu read to him. That seemed reasonable to me. He had to count the number of steps from his front door to his front gate. That sounded sensible. I know exactly how many steps there are from my front door until I need to start to tap my toe to look for the top of the first step.
I don’t want to under estimate the havoc and sorrow that losing your sight brings. That’s real, but it need not be the end of a good life. If you come from a position of being fully sighted you cannot imagine a life without seeing. I get that. for them it was a binary position. You can either see or you can’t. Most blind people have some sight.
“My God, that’s no life” said one of my fellow diners. “If I thought I would lose my sight I’d kill myself.” Most people grieve for the loss of sight and find a way to come to terms with it. Death is not the inevitable outcome. Human beings are hard wired to survive the best way we can. Most of us turn out to be swimmers, or doggy paddlers at the very least.
I’m a bit fuzzy about whether all this reflected a view that visually impaired people have no value in the world or whether it was just good old fashioned fear. Who knows what life will deliver to us. If it’s not one thing it’s another.
For better or worse I held my counsel and sipped the slow gin. I was in a slow gin kind of mood and it was excellent. Life is sweet, sweeter than slow gin. No doubt that helped as I counted my way home.