They say to see is to believe. But what if, for a split second, we all lose our sense of sight? What kind of world will we start believing and living in?
Oftentimes, blindness is categorized as a disability. People even use the idiom “you are blind to this” as a statement of deception, when as a matter of fact, our sense of sight can be just as deceiving.
Last 12 December, I was gifted with the experience of blindness for a few hours. At the annual Beyond Sight Gala Dinner, families and advocates from all over America came together over the appetizing Lebanese cuisine of Byblos in Norwood, MA. Hosted by ETI (Empowerment Through Integration), the event sought to raise funds towards educational and integration programs for blind youth around the world, especially in Lebanon and Nicaragua. Its unique concept was for participants to partake in dinner while being blindfolded.
Entering the main dining hall, I was in complete darkness. A soft-spoken lady helped tie my blindfold from the back, and escorted me as we walked slowly, but surely, to my seat. That walk – not knowing where I was going, what was behind or in front of me, felt like the best effort my limbs and senses had to endure in order to be seated in a restaurant. I do this every day, I thought to myself, letting the minutes, and seconds, pass in my routine. It was also a test of trust, for me, towards this stranger who was the only person I remember seeing before I lost my sight. That warm grasp on her hand was one assurance that I, and she, were both living in this moment – the power of human touch.
I came a little bit late, so I sat in the middle of the conversation of our round table. I was astonished to see my ears in action – shifting tones, peculiar accents, each pause, and gasp, which felt like cues on where to focus, when to speak, how to react with modesty, having lost the possible distractions of visuals, or for a fashionista like me, what color or brand one may be wearing tonight. I saw my hands took control of the situation, as I began to feel the rest of the table. It was round, I guessed about medium size through the length of its radius. The chairs to my left and right were about 4 feet away. A set of plate, utensils, glass of water had been laid in front of me, and I could reach for at least 3 different types of food which I immediately smelled and tasted with my bare hands in order to get to know them – hummus, kebab, pita bread; a classic!
For the most part of the experience, I opted to keep quiet in my seat, to keep still in darkness. I listened, touched, tasted, smelled. I felt the moment, felt myself, felt the other, and to my awe, saw not that which surrounded me but what went beyond them. Simply, seeing is feeling.
The dinner was facilitated by ETI founder Sara Minkara, a Masters graduate in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School. Sara became legally blind at the age of 7, and has since become an inspiring young leader for the disability rights movement in America and around the world. Among her many moving statements: “I see the world in a different way, and it is very beautiful.” This was echoed by the participants with feelings of being “authentic” to our selves, not having to prove anything and giving people their own spaces. That night, we had no concept of race, class, and physical beauty. Everybody was on equal ground – darkness, and that’s exactly how all the light came in.
My personal reflection takes me back to a Sufi poem entitled “Love Light” by Zainab Sayeb, reminiscent of the beauty of the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul:
“When my children asks me what I did to defend my truth,
when they expected me to shout
I will tell them I built myself into an hagia sofia
Stood in the middle of the streets of Istanbul
As proof that no matter the wars outside
No matter how they tried to strip me of faith, to hollow me of love
No matter my scaffolding and chipping paint
My dome will always shimmer in the sunshine
There will always be enough windows in me to let the light in”
We ended the year 2016 with the month of December, a celebration of Light through the Jewish Hanukkah, Christmas, and also Mawlid, the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. Not one of our senses can capture the essence of this Light within ourselves, others and this beautiful world we share. We all have our blind spots. Sometimes, darkness, in a literal and figurative sense, moves us to find what we have been looking for. The question is no longer what can we see through the light which has always been there, but rather, how are we able to share that light with each other?
This 2017, let Rumi remind us that, “If light is in your heart, you will find your way home.”
Over 250 million visually impaired people live in developing countries where financial restrictions and cultural stigmas exclude them from society. Of the visually impaired community living in developing nations, just 5.13 million are educated. THIS EQUATES TO ABOUT 1 IN 50.
Empowerment through Integration (ETI) aims to provide blind students in all over the world with educational and recreational programs and advocacy services necessary for them to become fully integrated and productive members of society. By teaching life skills, ETI works to instill self-confidence and self-sufficiency. By promoting the inclusion of visually impaired individuals in academic and social spheres, ETI plans to foster social awareness for disability rights and garner community and governmental support.
If you want to feel–and see—a similar experience, sign up for ETI’s 2017 Dining in the Dark Gala! To register, please visit our website: http://www.etivision.org/upcoming-events/blog/gala.
SUPPORT ETI’S PROGRAMS HERE >>> http://www.etivision.org/donate/