A Blind Perspective

Posted on: September 2, 2012
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By Andi Mills
At Lander University they have a term I like. It is “non-traditional student.” I guess I am about as non-traditional as they come. I am sixty one years old, I am blind, and I have not been in school since before most of my classmates were in kindergarten. I find it insightful, challenging and amusing to be in this situation at this stage of my life.
I found it interesting to be older than all the students in my classes, and I didn’t even mind that I was older than most of my professors. In fact, a couple of my professors were younger than my youngest child. I did find it a little unsettling however, when I was sitting in the atrium while two young men were arguing about the way and means of Oswald’s death after the Kennedy assassination. I was a child when that happened, but I witnessed it live on T.V. Their bickering became annoying to me as I was trying to study my own homework. I interrupted the two students and told them that they were both wrong about the situation and proceeded to settle their argument. When I realized I had just settled an argument with two of my fellow students about an issue in their history books, because I saw it happen, I felt old. It was then that I realized how truly wide the gulf of age between us!
I listen to them… infant adults, most of whom are facing the world on their own for the first time. For the students in residence, there is no curfew and they are making some of their own decisions without the input from Mom and Dad. Beyond the “deer in the headlight” stare, I see the faces of children who find themselves unattended in the gigantic candy store of life. I detect their optimism and their frustrations. I overhear them talking about things which are, to them, earth shattering. (Personally, I am long passed the point where I would consider suicide over a grade of C, I know the world will not come to a screeching halt if I turn off my cell phone during class, and I really don’t care who is dating whom on campus.) I long ago discovered that comfort is far more important than style, and for me, partying on Friday night means I can go to bed early because I have all day Saturday to catch up on my homework!
I have aches and pains that come with age. I struggle with the inconvenience of being blind. More than once I have wondered why I am here, a great-grandmother, trying to get a degree. I love school, I love learning, and I love to be this age observing students younger than my grandchildren, as they forge their way through the maze of youth. In their struggle for independence and a higher education, I pray that they will learn important lessons in life before they jump out there into the cutthroat world of reality that awaits them.
They are bright, they are energetic, they are not yet tainted with the cynicism they will acquire with age and life experience. They are beautiful, they are funny and they are compassionate toward me and my situation. I love them all. They are a blessing to me and I feel privileged to walk among them, a silent witness to their journey through this special time in their lives. My guide dog, Mr. Tibbs, loves the attention they lavish on him and I feel that they get something as well, from the time they spend with him. I may be a “non-traditional student,” but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have a unique perspective on life at Lander and it is one of the most cherished experiences in my life. I am with them, but apart from them… separated by age and life experience. They keep me young. They encourage me to be my best.
My decision to go back to school after suddenly losing my sight had little to do with furthering my education. It was a way to survive mentally after all that was familiar to me was taken from me because of my loss of vision. I had to find a way to challenge myself. I had to have a reason to get up, a place to go, and goals to reach. I had to reinvent my life. My sight was the least of what I lost. I lost my independence, my job, my identity, my self-esteem, many of my friends and my self confidence. I went five months to “Adaptation to Blindness” classes and then went to residential training 3,000 miles away, to train with Mr. Tibbs. I wasn’t even sure I could complete one semester at the University. One of the students asked me why I decided to come back to school at this age, especially after I became blind. I told him that the day they informed me that my vision loss was permanent and irreparable, I flashed on a mental image of myself standing at a fork in the road. The sign on the one fork read, “NOWHERE” and the sign on the other fork read, “SOMEWHERE”. I didn’t know where “Somewhere” was, but I knew where “Nowhere” was and I didn’t want to go there. I made the right choice. I am now a senior at Lander U. I am an English major with an emphasis on professional writing and a History minor. I am a member of the Honor Society, I volunteer at a woman’s shelter, and have been awarded several scholarships. I have learned that you don’t always have to know where you are going as long as you are moving forward. Oh yes, I no longer consider myself a “blind” person. I am an Auditory, Olfactory, Tactile Discerner and Mr. Tibbs is now an Object Locator and an Impediment Negotiator. Blindness was not the end of my life; it was the beginning of a new life.



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