My daughter, age four and a half, can see things about two inches from her nose. She experiences the rest of the world through her ears, her nose, her memory, and best of all, through her imagination. Sometimes, when she asks me, I’ll tell her what I see outside the car windows, but sometimes I ask her what’s out there, because her version is usually more interesting.
“What’s outside?” I ask, and get treated to a story about a hyena driving a car to work (Abi joined our family from Africa nine months ago). When I ask her what a book says, her fingers scan the Braille and she tells me an entirely different tale about a stranded princess. Walking down the street together, she pulls my attention from the broken fence and abandoned litter to the magical sound of the crunching leaves beneath her feet.
As a person with low vision, I have struggled my whole life to identify what is around me accurately. I give myself headaches trying to read; I worry about tripping when I walk around. When I know I’m missing things around me, I have felt frustrated and annoyed. I’ve felt that the world lacks a certain richness for me that other sighted people enjoy.
Then Abi came into our family. She has introduced me to her world, rich and beautiful. Instead of lamenting the things she misses, she notices sounds and smells I overlook. Most of all, she populates her world with imaginary characters and impossible situations that make me laugh, and make me think. How important is the “real world” anyway? The real world that is full of ugliness and imperfection perhaps isn’t as vital as her world of stories and beauty. Sure, there is a certain amount of interaction that must be accomplished in the real world–I’m not describing a withdrawal or an unhealthy denial of her surroundings. What I observe is a scenery, an invented landscape that’s even more delightful at times than our mundane world of streets and houses and trees.
One of the things about my own low vision that I’ve always enjoyed is the unique perspective with which I see the world. Now, as I get to know my daughter, her unique scenery entertains me in a similar way. Rather than describing the world that I see and hear, it’s fun to ask her to describe the world that she’s thinking about. Rather than assuming my world is richer than hers because I can see more than she can, I love to dive into the world that she experiences, into a place that’s taken in differently than mine, but is in no way inferior.
I had thought that as a person with one foot already in the blind community, I would not have a “sightist” mentality. I was wrong. With our culture so focused on the visual, it’s hard not to view non-visual experiences as inferior, with a few exceptions, like recorded music or audio books. During the past nine months of having our daughter home, I’ve learned a deeper lesson, that her world is not just equivalent to mine; it’s sometimes better. At only four, she knows the power of a good conversation, or the joy of a shared story. If I will take the time to listen, she tells me all about the scenery in the landscape of her world, and I’m surprised at how accurate it really is.