The Braille Monitor                                                                                              February, 2004

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If I Could Choose

by Robert M. Eschbach

Bob Eschbach
Bob Eschbach

I love to walk. I don't do it for the exercise or for the health benefits, but I have always enjoyed the ability just to ramble where I wanted to go under my own steam. Even as a child growing up in the mountains of the Philippines, I walked everywhere and thoroughly enjoyed investigating trails, fishing for tadpoles in a stream, hiking through beautiful pine forests, and generally discovering the delights of what nature had to offer.

After I became blind, I continued walking everywhere. In those days all blind people had to help them were waist‑high wooden canes with crooks for handles. These were painted white with big red tips. When I look back on it, I am amazed at all we did with those little canes. At least using them meant that we didn't have to wait around for someone to take us places. But walking was the main thing.

Unfortunately I had weak ankles. In time I was forced to wear shoes that would allow me to continue doing what I liked to do. As the years went by, these ankles of mine argued with me more and more, but I walked anyway. Of course the time came when I had to slow down, yield to the need to ride in a car instead, getting around the way most people did. Eventually arthritis took over, and there were times when I actually had to hobble a few steps before my ankles would let me begin moving with relative ease.

 My wife and I enjoy traveling with our motorhome. Several years ago we went with an RV caravan into Eastern Canada. It was a delightful venture, and we made many friends as we marveled at the remarkable ways nature works. We watched and listened to the tidal bore, watching ducks trying to swim downstream when one of these tides was coming in and seeing them go backwards. We tasted all kinds of foods not generally available back home, and we investigated wilderness areas that still seemed to be untouched by humankind.

As we visited Peggy's Cove, I really struggled to get to the places we wanted to explore. We had to climb over and around huge boulders and use lots of steps to get to lookout points. My wife had to assist me because my ankles were protesting.

Several days after this adventure we had to leave the caravan and return home for a wedding. The night before we left, we gave each person in our new circle of friends a Kernel Book published by the National Federation of the Blind, and I read one of the articles aloud, demonstrating that blind people can read Braille as efficiently as sighted people read print. The article, written by Barbara Pierce, was titled "Fighting Every Step of the Way." In the article Barbara describes the frustrations of dealing with people who believe absolutely that blind adults cannot safely negotiate independently or, for that matter, be counted upon to get anywhere safely.

As I read, I realized that the folks around me had probably assumed that all the difficulties I had been experiencing in walking were caused by my blindness. I asked point-blank, "Do you folks think that I have trouble getting around because I'm blind?" The response was a universal and emphatic yes. So I explained that blindness had nothing to do with it; arthritis was the culprit. Using Barbara's article as the backdrop, I described many of the things blind people can do.

Not long ago I was walking past the TV while my wife Pat was watching the Oprah Winfrey show. Oprah was asking members of the audience the question, "If you could change anything in your life right now, what would it be?"

I muttered "ankles." Then I thought, "What would have happened if I had been asked that question on her show?" I can guarantee that she would have been astounded that my answer was not "blindness." I smiled as I reflected on such a hypothetical exchange. I believe my response would have rendered her speechless--an unusual state for her.

But the reality is that I have been blind for much of my life, and it has never stopped me from doing what I wanted to do--but arthritis certainly has.

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