Monday, October 12, 2009

Out of Darkness - Austin

I wonder sometimes at the darkness Helen Keller experienced before Anne Sullivan succeeded in breaking through the barrier with language, first with letters spelled into her hand, then actual writing as she mastered Braille. Braille itself was only 51 years old when Helen Keller was born. Combinations of six raised dots let someone who had never heard sound or seen a letter of the alphabet communicate.

I speak of Helen Keller’s darkness, but this post sat in my computer, reviewed yesterday afternoon – ready to post this morning. If I call it a senior “moment” does that excuse the fact that supper is over and the dishes done before I remembered I had not submitted my post. That’s only a 12-hour “moment.” I’ve run a chain-saw much of the day, still doing tornado cleanup. We pulled together a big crew today, 18 in total. I was up early and itching to get at it.
Chain-saw work doesn’t sound too bright for a guy who can’t see, but last time I checked I hadn’t cut a leg off. Enough with excuses. Please accept my apologies for posting this so late.

I have a writer’s imagination and can put myself into almost any situation with some ability to write convincingly. But reading seems as essential as breathing. I find myself unable to imagine not reading. There is a blank space there. My mind does not know how to bridge it.

A few not-so-subtle signs would let anyone investigating my life know that books carry a central role. Crowded bookshelves in several rooms, and a book or two on any table or other flat surface in the house is one hint. My computer room has books on the desk, books on the floor, books on shelves and books on the printer. If you checked Internet site favorites, you would find multiple title searches. If you checked volunteer activity you would learn that I have been involved in our church library for more than 26 years. And if you read my resume you would find I worked in a Bible Bookstore for more than 12 years.

BUT – reading typically expects something from the eyes. Four years of increasing struggles with vision problems had me voicing the idea of learning Braille. Then vision loss reached the point where I couldn’t continue with a job I loved.

Even if my eyesight deteriorates more, Braille will keep the wonder of reading open to me. Grade 1 Braille spells out every word. Grade 2 Braille uses contractions and is more challenging, but faster to read and more economical to publish. Neither are willing to make the jump to cyberspace without more technical know-how than I possess.

Just three weeks ago I started downloading TWG blogs, converting them to a Braille font and then transcribing them. It took three days to read of N.J. Lindquist’s athletic endeavors, and almost as long to explore the world of romance Ed Hird wrote about. A thousand or so words in three days? That sounds rather hopeless. But it is essentially a new language. I’m reading much faster now and just beginning to venture into Grade 2, the contracted form used for almost all published material. I’m not driving myself overly hard, spending half an hour to an hour most days, and really quite pleased with progress. I’m working visually, the Braille font of necessity quite large. Strangely, it is almost as easy to see raised white dots on white paper as to see standard size text in black print on white paper. I’m also trying to familiarize myself with the feel of the dots, although developing the sensitivity to distinguish them is exceptionally difficult for people who still rely mostly on eyesight.

I’m dreaming – an occupational hazard for a writer – of transcribing Hot Apple Cider into Braille. Just three weeks after beginning to learn this language, I’m not quite ready for such a project yet. But there is software available that would do most of the translation work, requiring just a careful proof-reading to be sure contractions and punctuation were accurately converted.

What a wonder language is! What a wonder that six dots could communicate anything you or I can put in print! What an incredible and priceless blessing to people with vision loss or blindness! If my eyesight gets no worse, I’ve invested a few hours and gained new knowledge. If it does get worse, I already have enough of a grasp of this medium that I could continue to make progress. There is a quiet sense of rest in that. I used to joke that I would learn Braille with my toes if that was the only way I could continue to read. I’m not sitting here with bare feet doing a tap-dance on a Braille book. But I do believe the privilege and blessing of reading would be worth it.


Peter Black said...

Thank you for sharing this particular stretch of your journey. It exudes great vision, initiative, hope, and inspiration.
But take care with that chainsaw --please!

She Writes said...


I'm so pleased to read that you, a writer and an avid reader are allowing God to open new opportunities for you to be able to read. We're never too old are we? I too must remind myself of this.

Jenny Burr

Glynis said...

You are a champion, Brian. Good for you for treading this path with such optimism. I have a braille book called The Good Shepherd which I use when I talk to students about Louis Braille but I can barely imagine 'reading' in braille. A person would have to be hypersensitive in the tactile area. That is amazing that you have conquered so much already! Journey on!

Eleanor Shepherd said...

Dear Brian,
My mother was blind for the last thirty years of her life. Although she did not learn Braille, she spent many hours listening to books on tape on a machine that was provided by the CNIB. Her favourites were her tapes of the Bible. In latter years, those were the only ones she listened to. She and I were often reading the same books, I read the printed version and she listened to the book on tape. Like you, she was willing to accept from the Lord the loss of sight and trusted Him to provide for her needs. Thanks for your sharing.

Ed Hird+ said...

Thank you for the inspirational courage that you are showing to all of us. May we learn from your creativity and determination.

Blessings, Ed Hird+

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