Guest Post by Marty Klein, author of The Enlightened Gambler and Practitioner of Blind Yoga
I’m enjoying this winter, for the first time, in the beautiful and peaceful Mexican town of Tulum, about two hours south of Cancun. So a few days ago my partner, Charlotte, and I visited a few of her friends who live right next to an amazing lagoon where many people come to snorkel. I sat out on their porch which overlooks the lagoon and the ocean, and listened to all of them, at different times, giving me specific detailed descriptions of the idyllic scene. Along with the sweet pictures they painted for me with their words, they all, in different ways, expressed a sadness that I could not experience the fascinating visuals.
I appreciated their attempts to fill me in on what I was missing, but I also did my best to not get caught up in their projections about how hard life must be when you can’t see such beauty in the world. I enjoyed the scene, however, in my own way, separate from their visual descriptions. I could hear the gentle waves, softly lapping in the distance. The exotic birds certainly provided intriguing and pleasurable sounds. The air was moist and thick with the smell of the ocean, slightly salty as I would describe it, with an occasional gust and a more consistent soft breeze. The porch that overlooked the lagoon had a high ceiling and I could feel an openness that added to the peace I felt there. It was definitely a very sweet spot on the water, and I’m sure one that most people, with or without sight, could totally enjoy.
On the way home I started thinking about some words I heard a few years ago from a trusted and respected spiritual leader. She talked about how important it was, if you wanted to take a spiritual path in life, to meditate for at least half an hour every day as well as to develop the ability to see beauty in the world. Obviously as a blind man I do not see beauty in the world, but I certainly have the ability to experience beauty. There are many sounds that are pleasurable, smells that are enjoyable and tastes that are just delicious. But is that beauty or is that just positive sensation? As a massage therapist I have worked on many bodies over the years. I always did my best to respect the client and give them a good session. But I must admit that only a few of those bodies were a real joy to massage. I wouldn’t say that they were beautiful bodies necessarily, but my connection with their bodies at those special times felt like we were both in harmony. I think it was the harmony that I would call beautiful. A child’s laughter, a dog’s graceful and loving nudge, a cat asleep in my lap while purring, an emotionally moving piece of music, watching friends successfully free themselves from some unwanted addiction or some toxic behavior. I see those special moments as beautiful. And I know I have others, but after exploring with this blog, just how I experience beauty, I am now a little more focused on seeking out those moments and identifying them as beautiful.
I’d love to hear from other visually impaired people about how they experience beauty in the world. There is no right and wrong here. I just think if we heard from others it might help all of us begin to get a bigger picture of what we, as blind and visually impaired people, notice as beauty… and that’s bound to add to our lives becoming even more beautiful!
Note from Catherine Carrigan: I especially appreciated this touching article from my friend Marty Klein for many reasons. After I graduated from Brown University in 1981, I moved back to my home town of Savannah, Georgia. While there, I began volunteering at the Savannah Association for the Blind. I remembered growing up that in Forsyth Park there was a garden for the blind but I had never seen any blind people actually enjoying the flowers. So I took it upon myself to set up my own volunteer experience. Once a week, I drove my mother’s station wagon to the association for the blind and piled as many folks into the car as would comfortably fit. I borrowed the key to the garden for the blind from the city of Savannah and drove everybody to Forsyth Park for a weekly picnic. This experience benefited me as a writer because I later wrote a play based on two of the characters I got to know. I love flowers so much that I wanted the blind folks to be able to appreciate them also.