Isaac Lidsky's life sounds magical: the teen star of a popular TV show turned U.S. Supreme Court clerk turned successful entrepreneur. But for Lidsky, CEO of ODC Construction, a $115 million Florida company, the clouds began massing at age 13 when he learned he was going blind. Lidsky's new book, Eyes Wide Open: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can't See Clearly (2017, TarcherPerigree, Penguin Random House, LLC.), recounts his sometimes harrowing, sometimes exhilarating journey while delivering hard-won wisdom about changing how we see and--as a result--respond to adversity. In the following excerpt, Lidsky describes how he began to mentally reframe his challenges.
When Dorothy and I were dating, without either of us knowing anything about it, her mother, Brenda, who is an occupational therapist, began to research solutions for the blind and partially sighted. She came across an expert in Boston named Chris, began corresponding with her, and set up a meeting during an upcoming trip to visit Dorothy. As the visit neared, Brenda invited Dorothy to come along. I caught wind of their plan and invited myself. Off we went, all three of us. It changed my life.
We've barely entered Chris's office when she asks me if I use a walking cane for the visually impaired. Her question turns my world upside down.
"Uh, no, I, well, I see too well to use a cane. I, uh, you see, I'm not blind yet, uh, I have some useful vision and, uh, it is too soon, I mean, too early for a cane," I respond. I am confused. Isn't Chris supposed to be the expert here? Of course I don't use a cane. It has never occurred to me to use a cane. Not yet.
"Do you bump into things?" she asks.
Do I bump into things? Really? We are supposed to be talking about Blindness. I'm here to figure out what I'm going to do then, when my life is awful and different and depressing. I'm not here to talk about now. Now is fine. I can handle now. Now is not the problem. Blindness is my problem.
"Yeah, I bump into things all the time," I say, trying to hide my impatience.
"Do you ever hurt yourself?" she asks.
Is this lady serious? I've been watching my sight fade away for years, literally. I'm constantly tormented by the knowledge that my life as I know it is ending. She wants to talk about bumps and bruises? Fine, I'll talk about bumps and bruises. I'll show her how meaningless they are to me compared to Blindness.
"You could say that," I reply, pulling up the leg of my jeans to reveal my shin. The bruise is one of my worst, and a few days after the injury it is looking its ugliest. I play it down. "A fire hydrant gave me this one," I say. No big deal, happens all the time.
"You know," Chris says, "if you learned to use a cane you wouldn't hurt yourself. It would be a lot safer."
I'm stunned. The point is obvious. Brilliantly, completely, irrefutably obvious. The implications are enormous. There is something I can do to help myself. Right now. A cane won't fend off Blindness, but it can fend off fire hydrants. I'm speechless.
"People don't realize that you are low vision, right?" Chris asks. She does not wait for a response. "I'm sure that can be very frustrating and awkward. You know, if you carry a cane--even if you don't really use it--most people will see it and realize you have vision problems. That could be helpful."
Another blow. It lands hard. That could be helpful? That could be absolutely amazing, I think. People will realize that I have vision problems. It won't mean a thing to Blindness, but it will make my day a lot easier. I want to hug Chris.
She does not let up. "What about the computer?" she asks.
She is in my head. It has become painful to use my computer. I have to jack up the size of the text, use a high contrast color scheme, and put my face right up to the monitor. I've managed to swap the default Windows pointer for a giant one that is neon green, but I lose track of even the new one. I spend a lot of time hunting down that green cursor and methodically following it across the screen. Blindness doesn't care whether I can use my computer or not, but I care. I care deeply.
Chris has a solution for this problem, too. The visually impaired can use special screen-reading software to interact with the computer, she explains. Screen-readers speak to you, reading text and narrating the various options and menus within a program. You use your ears instead of your eyes. You can use keyboard commands instead of the mouse and cursor. She shows me. It takes time, effort, and patience to learn to use a screen-reader, Chris warns me. But once you've mastered it, you don't need your eyes to use your computer. It is that simple.
Chris has many more simple solutions. She is full of them. A technique called "sighted guide" that Dorothy and I can use to walk around together, gadgets for labelling things around the house, a method to keep track of different bills, strategies to organize my clothing to match outfits, resources for audiobooks and other digital content like newspapers. I am eager to hear about it all. I am excited to put it all to use in my life. I am impressed by the elegant simplicity.
Still, I cannot shake the feeling that we are ignoring the elephant in the room. We talked about canes and computers, about the mundane and the practical. But Blindness has escaped confrontation. We have said nothing about my dark future. Then I have an epiphany, a revelation.
There is no Blindness, only fire hydrants, those who are unaware of my challenge, disappearing computer pointers on the screen, an open landscape of practicalities stretching to the horizon.
The scene on fear's canvas is a fiction, a mirage. You will never face fear's execution day. But tomorrow you will face your life, and the next day, and every day thereafter, until you have none left. Those days unlived are reality's blank canvas, and you are the only creator.