Handicap can be a matter of attitude

At North Plains Cinema in Clovis, I watched a man wearing sunglasses in the lobby swaying as gently to the muffled music as a wheat field’s silky ripples.

Had he been aware of my prying eyes — as his party disappeared inside — I am sure he would have welcomed the darkened refuge.

His sunglasses reminded me of a 39-year-old I met in Portales many years ago.

Following a fertilizer explosion on his family’s farm, Jeff began losing his sight at 24.

“When I first lost my sight, I thought it was over,” he said. “It was very difficult to accept that I was going to be one of ‘those people.’ To me, carrying a cane was like a neon sign that said ‘freak.’”

For several years, doctors were able to keep Jeff from going completely blind through 54 operations, including two dozen cornea transplants.

“I felt sad about the transplants because someone had to die — especially the children,” he said.

“In a strange way, the accident opened my eyes. I realized I wasn’t accomplishing much; now I’ve put the past behind and am living for the future. There’s always walls, but I’m leaning into the wind and going through them instead of around them.”

Jeff told me it amused him to hear people complain about small things.

He also told me to never hesitate to offer help to those with disabilities because “they have the same thoughts, cry the same tears and spill the same blood.”

Losing his sight in adulthood, Jeff said, was especially cruel because he knew what he was missing — “a woman’s smile, snow-covered mountains, a New Mexico sunset.

“The advantage is, in your mind, you can be anywhere you want. To me, eastern New Mexico is surrounded by beautiful beaches.”


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