A life lived in darkness

Pop, laughing – taken on November 2, 2010

This is my grandfather. He has worked most of his life on the land, and still owns and runs his own sheep farm. The photo you can see was taken seven years ago, but I intend to share something a little more recent soon. A little more personal.

Diagnosed as a young man with glaucoma, he has learned to live with his failing vision and the difficulties that come with blindness. He knows every field, every fence and every landmark on his property like it were a part of his own body. This intimate familiarity has allowed him to continue working even now, when he is “legally blind”. For as long as I have known him (over three decades) he has lived with this… pigeon-holing. And the expectations, difficulties and troubles that come with it. All of which he has borne with an inspiring patience.

That’s not to say he doesn’t have his bad days. When his eyes are so tired, and his vision worse than usual. When he can’t do things for himself and the frustration becomes too much. When those around him become complacent and don’t treat him with the respect and compassion he deserves. It is not an easy life; living with a visual impairment. We often take for granted the world we see around us. To have it slowly decay over much of your adulthood takes strength and dogged determination.

I am prouder of my Pop than I am of anyone else I know.

He is a well of strength, solidity and a living testament to what you can achieve if you do not let your own shortcomings get in the way.

I am ashamed to admit that I, too, have become complacent over the years. Pop has always been legally blind to me, I never knew him before his diagnosis; and I have never thought to ask even the simplest of questions.

How are you doing, Pop?

What does the world look like to you?” – he can see a little, I have since learnt.

Is there colour in your world?

Whose face do you remember clearest?

Let alone the more complex, emotionally fraught ones. Some that I have always been afraid to ask. Would I upset him? Is it too hard to talk about? Are the memories too painful? And how will my Nanna react? Will she think I’m upsetting him needlessly? Will other people?

A few weeks ago I decided to talk to him. I told him I had an idea. I explained to him in detail, about how I wanted to know the answers to these questions. And more. About how I wanted to share his story with others. Friends, family, strangers. I was hesitant, halting. Listening for anything that might indicate that he would feel uncomfortable. It was hard to do on a broken line. I was surprised to find that he supports the idea, is excited for it even.

Will other people see it?” He asks, haltingly.

Well… only if you’re ok with it, Pop. I don’t want to do anything you’re not comfortable with.” I respond, almost holding my breath in anticipation of his answer.

I want people to see it. Share it. People need to know what its like to live with being blind.” There’s an uplifted tone to his voice, he sounds stronger. My heart soars and breaks for him all at once.

They will.” A promise made.

I want people to see through HIS eyes. What the world is like to live in near darkness. Only vague shapes appearing before him, with no reference as to how near or far they might be. Having grandchildren, and great grandchildren whose faces he has never seen. His wife and children, growing older.

Do they remain clear and youthful in his memories, or have they faded like old photographs?

Does he dream in colour and light?

My next project is a very personal one to me. I want to share his story before it is lost forever. I have been working hard on developing the project, which will include a short film, and hope to speak with him later this week on what he hopes to achieve.