Don't Pity the Blind. My Life's Richer Than Ever since I Lost My Sight; British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Poor Eyesight Was Recently Given as an Excuse for an Insensitive Error. Here, One Top Writer Offers a Surprising - and Inspiring - Counterblast ... SATURDAY ESSAY
Byline: by James Jackson
A WEEK ago, and in a private act of worship in the cramped cave beneath the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, I reached gently to touch the silver star marking the purported spot at which the Christ Child was born. In doing so, I succeeded only in goosing the ample behind of an aged nun who was prostrate in religious reverie. One has to laugh.
You see, blindness is full of incident, colour and absurdity -- and it can enrich rather than diminish life in ways most people cannot imagine.
In a country hotel, I cursed inwardly at the excess garnish placed in my glass of orange juice, until I heard a waiter murmur quietly in my ear: 'That's the vase for the rose, sir.' In a supermarket, a woman asked if I wanted to buy oranges. I replied that, in fact, I was looking for apples.
'But you love oranges,' she retorted. Politely, I reaffirmed my commitment to apples.
'What about bananas?' she asked. No, just apples, I said. Our conversation lasted a further couple of minutes and alighted on the small matter of what kind of yoghurt I preferred.
At this juncture I realised with the cold sweat of mortification that instead of talking to me, she was actually conferring on her mobile phone with a boyfriend or husband and was paying no attention at all to my replies. It was the perfect parallel conversation; my very own Two Ronnies sketch.
Life is never humdrum when you can't see.
Blindness has become topical in the wake of an incident involving the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Blind in his left eye, and with retinal damage in his right, it recently came to light that he had sent an error-strewn, hand-written letter of condolence to the mother of Jamie Janes, a young British soldier killed last month in Afghanistan.
Many understandably felt sympathy for Gordon Brown over the fact that his already poor eyesight seemed to be deteriorating further. They applauded him for taking the time, under such circumstances, to hand-write a letter to Mrs Janes. And they believed it deeply unfair that, out of this act of compassion, political capital appears to have been made by his critics.
For my part, I think Gordon Brown and his advisers should have known that in writing any letter of condolence you do not produce a hasty scrawl.
HOWEVER heartfelt, however difficult it is to write both physically and emotionally, and however busy your schedule, a letter like this is of such importance to the recipient that you read it and re-read, you check and check again. You certainly don't misspell the name of the person you are sending it to, as Gordon Brown did. It was a mistake. Matter closed.
And that, I think, is what everyone would have said in years gone by.
The trouble is that today we live in a victim culture, a post-Diana world where emotional incontinence and pity obscure common sense.
The last thing, I imagine, that Gordon Brown wants is to be pitied. Yet his spin doctors understand that fading eyesight is just the thing to garner pity and support. And in their desperation to boost his floundering image, they are in danger of committing the terrible mistake of playing on his perceived disability.
As someone who sees considerably less than Gordon Brown, I can say with some authority that blindness is not worthy of pity. In fact, I'd be mortified if it was used as an excuse for any of my failings.
My blindness has taught me that there is a clear benefit to having something to struggle and push against in life. I have discovered the advantage of dealing with a condition that puts imagined and petty problems in perspective.
I have enjoyed the privilege of experiencing every day the quiet decency of the public who unfailingly offer a helping hand. And I have laughed too many times to count over the ludicrous situations that my blindness has led me into.
My eye condition is retinitis pigmentosa, a congenital disease that progressively devours the cells of the retina and closes down the vision field. …