This blog post is dedicated to my husband John, the love of my life, in honor of his birthday today.
“Who is that?” I was watching the Grammy Awards with my parents, leaning back on the couch in Urbana, with my legs propped up on my dad’s lap. A man of color had just come on stage to accept an award for ‘Best Producer of the Year,” apparently for the third year in a row. Before my mother or father could answer, I added, and why is he wearing dark sunglasses inside? My mom turned to me matter-of-factly. “That’s Stevie Wonder. I am pretty sure he has always been blind, but that never stopped him. He is one of the most famous musicians of all time.”
I sat quietly as I watched Stevie Wonder accept his award graciously, subtly swaying as if life was filled with an inner chime that rang just for him to hear. Up until that moment, I had never met anyone who was blind, and the concept was baffling. My own life had been a combination of completely normal at home with my family, but as soon as some stranger took one look at me, I became the subject of stares, whispers, curiosity and even fear. All of a sudden I longed for the experience of meeting someone like Stevie Wonder in person. Not because he was a famous singer, but because I instantly realized upon our meeting, he would not be quick to judge.
“I was there for you in your darkest times. I was there for you in your darkest nights, but I wonder where were you, when I was at my worst….So I’m following the map that leads to you, following following following the map that leads to you…” As a working mother of three, going to a concert was certainly a rarity for me, but as a big fan of Maroon 5, I was thrilled that my close friend and I had endured yet another snow storm that day to enjoy dinner and then the long-awaited concert at Madison Square Garden. The majority of people in the audience were women of all ages, with a small percentage of parents who had brought their pre-teen kids and at least a few people there on dates.
We were surrounded by a bunch of women screaming the lyrics and, rather than being annoyed, we decided we couldn’t beat ‘em, so we’d join ‘em. The Garden was packed and at one point I asked my friend if she could take a “flaunt” photo of me at the concert. As I raised my shortened forearms and one-fingered hands high above my head wearing a strapless top, I couldn’t help but notice that no one was staring at me whatsoever. No, my difference didn’t seem to matter when they were all enthralled with something more important…in this case great and captivating music.
This past week, a few things happened that grabbed my attention, but not all for good reasons. First, I turned on an episode of ‘the Voice,’ a U.S. singing competition with four celebrity judges including my favorite, Adam Levine. I was behind in the season but thankfully had recorded the series from the beginning, when the ‘Blind Auditions’ were held. Sure, I could’ve skipped the first few episodes and jumped to see who already made it to the ‘Battlerounds.’ But, this was the part of the show that I loved the most, since the judges form an opinion first about each singer sight-unseen. With their chairs turned around the judges could only listen to each contestant, not see them. Thus, every one with a talented voice has an equal shot at impressing the judges no matter if they’re heavy, short, bald or even possessing a blatant physical difference. I fell asleep during the show, but in a good mood…
Until the next morning. After dropping my son at school, I flipped on the radio briefly. On a popular station, WPLJ 95.5, the hosts Scott and his new side-kick, Jade, were starting their daily segment on the subject of unrequited love. The premise for each piece is that a young man or woman who was on a recent date wondered why the other didn’t call for a second date. Scott and Jade bring their story public by first interviewing the rejected person who is longing to know, “what happened?” My ears perked up as a young woman, sounding anxious but hopeful, described to the radio DJs what she had thought was a fabulous date. “We had such a great time. I had an extra ticket to see the Maroon 5 concert a couple of weeks ago at MSG and I thought we really hit it off but he never called me afterward.” In that moment, Scott took over and rang the guy. “Hi! I am Scott and this is Jade and congrats….you are on the radio.” Pause. “We have someone that is interested in going out with you and the good news is you already know her! You probably remember her since the two of you went to the Maroon 5 concert together a couple of weeks ago. Here at PLJ we’d love to treat you both to another date!” Pause. The young man, clearly forgetting he was on the air responded abruptly, “Oh no thanks. Between you and me, she is not worth my time. She lost her hair.” Scott interrupted, “What did you say she lost?” The young man spoke up. “HAIR! The girl is going to be bald in no time! I think her hair even fell into my drink at the concert! Thanks, but no I am not interested.” Having to dash off to the train I had to turn off the show and didn’t get to hear the woman’s reply, but I didn’t need to since I felt incredibly sick to my stomach. Clearly the guy was a total jerk and it broke my heart just imagining the girl, absolutely humiliated, listening to him describe her like that in public.
The same morning while on the train, I read a Modern Love story in the New York Times, Together Always, in Darkness and in Light, written by Nicole Kear. Kear described her own personal love story which was complicated by the fact that, beginning at age 19, she started losing her vision. “The doctor told me I would slowly lose my eyesight over the next 10 to 15 years — first my nighttime and peripheral vision, and later, my central vision, too. I ended on a high note: Losing my vision, I explained, was teaching me to really see.” But what I found most interesting about the piece was that, at age 22, she shared her diagnosis with her college boyfriend, David and as she described, “His response was as grand and poetic as the story itself…..the next time we met, he wore my name on his arm…as I admired the tattoo, he told me I had lit his darkness and he would light mine. No matter what came, he said, we would face it together. He was all in.” At first merely a poetic hypothetical, eventually the reality transformed from that of a ‘grand romance’, to what she could best describe as tedious, draining and even messy. By the time Kear’s daughter was born, she had lost enough sight to be legally blind and was constantly colliding into people and things. Athough Kear describes the experience of losing her sight as isolating and frightening and the reality that going blind put unimaginable stress on her and her husband (now parents of three), in the end her husband remained committed to her. I wasn’t the least surprised.
From my own experience, I know that it is best to let the person you love (or may love) know the whole score up front. Let them see those imperfections from the start. The shallow will walk in the other direction, but that’s okay. As Kear discovered, however, the other type are arguably the best of all. In the end, having a difference can become the map that leads to the right person, the strongest person, the most committed person, and from what I have experienced, there is no question they’ll be there for you, even during the darkest nights.
The day John and I were married, we danced to ‘Overjoyed’ by Stevie Wonder. I chose the song because I had loved Stevie’s music since I was a child, and because it described how I felt after finally finding a man who loved me unconditionally, even at first sight.