Most people see me and in their vision, I appear pretty normal. I am this big, husky, African-American gentleman, who most people would think twice about approaching in a dark alley…until I smile which generally lets people know that I am an ok guy…actually pretty cool, if I must say so myself. Then upon further investigation, the abnormality hits them like a gentle slap – my eye. I was born thirty-five years ago with a normal set of peepers set in my skull but about five years ago, that all changed. I inherited the trait for diabetes from both of my parents and left unchecked in early childhood, it manifested into the raging beast that it is today, much to my dismay.
I went for years with no complications until my thirtieth year of life when I noticed a change in my sight begin to unfurl. I put off getting it checked because like a lot of men, I did not go to the doctor and didn’t want to. It turns out that that was a wrong move. I was developing a condition known as Diabetic Retinopathy which was basically causing my retina to detach from its location, which in turn caused “holes” in my vision. I finally bought a clue and went to see an eye specialist who told me that I was experiencing this disease complication and that he needed to do a series of procedures and so forth. I will spare you all the technical jargon, partly because I don’t know it but I will simply say that I had to have a complex surgical procedure. The surgery resulted in a blurry haze in my left eye with a promise of renewed sight but…life had other plans.
Through another set of bizarre circumstances, my healing process went awry and I ended up having to have another surgical procedure which fully killed the sight in my eye. For months of uncomfortability, I waited anxiously to see what would happen because I believe in the power of healing! Alas, God had different plans for this guy. After about six months of back and forth trips to the doctor, he told me that I was going to have to live the rest of my life without sight in that eye. Now, this was devastating news but I took it like a champ…it really didn’t seem for real, to be honest. I went on putting medicated drops in my eye and tried to will it into healing but here today, I still sit, with no sight in my left eye.
There would be no external sob story relayed about my experience though! I have went on with my life for the last five years; I work, I finished my first degree in college, I still travel and all the good things that regular people do but ah…it is what people don’t see that fools them. I never knew what it felt like to be different until this experience. I mean, I have some external factors that make me unique; I am African-American but I share that trait with millions of other individuals. I am a bit on the overweight side, which caused some jeers while growing up but I flowed with that like a beast! This experience with my sight though, is humbling. On most days, because of the remaining sight that I have in my “good eye”, I get along great as I mentioned but every once in a while, I notice the difference for a short amount of time and internally recall that I am blind in one eye. Sometimes I will experience a mishap with depth perception and stumble a bit but I play it off smoothly as possible. I am deathly afraid of stairs and sunlight is not my friend anymore, without a good pair of shades on deck.
The most uncomfortable aspect though is the stares and the questioning looks from other people; the kids are the worst because they will not try to be discreet, but will stare like I am the newest sideshow freak. I have gotten used to it though- kind of. Some days I catch myself trying to hurry and avoid another person’s eye contact, to try and avoid their inquisition. Other times, I just say “F*** it” and look people square up in the face like they have a problem. It can be a little messed up at times. Some people think I was born this way. Then on the complete flip side, there are individuals who ask questions with so much concern and care that I share a small version of my story. I love the children who don’t gawk at me but ask me sincerely with their child-like curiosity, “what happened to your eye?” I thank them for asking respectfully and then tell them briefly about my surgical situation.
I wish some days that I could just get a transplant and have a “normal” eye again but that is not reality. I take it day by day and realize that I have an abnormality, but it’s mine. I do not have to slump my head to avoid making somebody else comfortable with my circumstances. I guess you can say that I am working on my confidence; it is not anywhere near where I want it to be but it’s growing.
We all have differences, some of them visible and some of them hidden; some of our differences occur in-utero, some happen well into our adult lives. Whether internal or external, these differences belong to us and we shouldn’t be ashamed of them. The phrase “different like you” will literally mean something different to everybody who hears it but to me, it simply states that I have something that is different from you which makes me just like you – unique, beautifully and wonderfully made by a Creator who still loves me. People are going to have their issues with whatever differences persist but at the end of the day, who cares…just be you.