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February 19, 2024

Ann: The True Story of an Ordinary Woman with Extraordinary Determination

By Terry Petersen

As we leave the restaurant, Ann picks up her white cane and links her arm into mine. "I think I'll drive home this time."

The joke doesn't need to be new to be effective. "Ah darn! And I was looking for some adventure. No speed limits."

"I'll be your friend forever," she says.

The unfolding of each day provides plenty of opportunity for unconditional acceptance. However, forever sounds good. I'll take it.

Ann is good at acceptance. She has never seen me smile or frown. Yet, she recognizes both, and trusts my integrity.

I consider ubiquitous discussions about race. Talk solves nothing. Perhaps more people need to see with Ann's perspective. Appearance doesn't matter -- who an individual is makes a difference. Action clinches it.

Not only does Ann recognize a person's voice, but she hears subtleties in tone. One day I was upset about a situation, although I said nothing about it at a group luncheon. Ann knew something was not A-OK. She read the timing of my speech, the lost-carbonation in its flow.

We talked about the problem later. She listened; she has a gift for it. Or, more likely, she has learned through experience how walks through the difficult side of the real world, feel.

Now, on a January afternoon, we sit in my living room. She adjusts our reclining sofa into comfy position, feet up, head back. I ask her about her life.

She turns toward me. "When I was born the doctor bumped my head. It damaged my brain."

A botched delivery. Moreover, obstetric skills in 1942 were not as advanced as they are now.

"I banged my head against the side of my crib. My eyes hurt. Constantly."

She had glaucoma. Help never arrived despite multiple surgeries.

Ann studied braille in 1949 at the age of seven in a school where she was the only blind student. Most of the children were deaf. Sign language and braille -- like shouting into a hurricane for directions to the desert. A lot of noise, no way out.

Her teacher would have been called strict in those days, abusive now. School was controlling in every aspect. "Eat everything on your plate." Lunch was not a relaxed time. She had a teacher with her in a micro-managed existence.

Eventually, Ann went to a mainstreamed school, although she did not feel as if she belonged to any kind of main stream.

Her father was an alcoholic. Her mother drank as well. One of Ann's eyes ruptured in 1954. The glaucoma had won.

In 1958 Ann's mother died of stomach cancer. When Sister Angelica told Ann her mother had died, Ann cried. Sister Angelica's response? "I guess Ann isn't the trouper I thought she was."

Ann's second eye ruptured in 1982.

Darkness could have stayed inside her spirit for the rest of her life. In isolation. She had no other choice. In time, however, she met genuine friends. At work, Clovernook Home for the Blind. In church. Through chorus. And the YMCA. Ann is now retired.

She didn't let darkness live beyond what could not be changed.

"Hi, my name is Ann. What's yours?" she says to people she meets.

Some folk answer her invitation, stay, and are blessed. Others aren't ready. Yet.

Sometimes opportunity means more than the next job interview or winning prize ticket. It can be a chance meeting that transforms the notion of seeing into the reality called vision.

Article © Terry Petersen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2018-04-02
Image(s) © Terry Petersen. All rights reserved.
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