October 23rd, 2008

Bruce, Caroline

What Does Sight Feel Like: LJ Idol, Week 5

If you can see anything at all, even light, or if you have ever seen anything at all, you cannot fully understand what it is to have been totally blind since birth. This is not a statement lamely meant to evoke pity, it is simply a statement of fact. Many times, I have had people come up to me, genuinely believing they understand my lot in life because they have been blindfolded for an hour, morning, afternoon, or day, but it is simply not true. When one is blindfolded, there comes with it the knowledge that at some point that blindfold will be removed. At the very least, you have experienced sight and you know the sensation for what it is.

Just as someone who sees or has seen can't understand total blindness from birth, I am also incapable of understanding sight. This has led to interesting conversations.

For as long as I can remember, people have tried explaining sight, color, and perspective to me, all to no avail. "What does sight feel like?" I ask. "Feel? It doesn't feel like anything," they reply, "it's just ... it's just sight!" Or, one of my personal favorites, "Red is hot, and ..." "But," I answer, "what happens when you take a red apple and put it in the fridge. It's still red, but it's cold!"

Another thing people like to tell me is that I see black. I do not. When you are seeing black, your eyes tell your brain that there is nothing to see, and your brain registers this. In my case, my brain doesn't even register that there is nothing to see. It's a really tough concept to wrap your brain around, just as, I'm sure, mere silence is absolutely nothing like total deafness.

The problem is that we think of things according to the reference points we know. We have to, it's all we have. You associate blindness with darkness, darkness with blackness. You don't know what is beyond darkness, so the notion that blindness is somehow more than darkness/blackness is utterly foreign.

Does blindfolding give one a better understanding of blindness? Absolutely. People can experience firsthand some of the challenges associated with blindness. But it's not the real thing, nor can it be. So I suppose there will always be this comprehension gap between me and my many sighted friends, family, and associates. Thankfully this gap doesn't divide us as people. Our commonalities far, far outweigh the differences that blindness represent.

But I still want to know, and I probably won't know during my life on earth, what does sight feel like?