How I See It

You do not see what I see. We all see everything differently.

We count on our eyes, daily, to navigate our way through this life. We count on our eyes to witness everyday events with friends and family, capture beauty, and see the dangers ahead.

Each of us interprets what we see.

This is highly personal.

You do not see as I do because I have a visual disability. You cannot even imagine how long it has taken me to say that out loud, even as I began to realize, or understand, what I am dealing with.

It is far more than pride.

By admitting I have a disability, I am confessing to a flaw. This is a hard thing to admit to anybody, let alone yourself.

It is highly personal.

When faced with diminished eyesight, at any level, you begin to think about how, and why, you use your eyes. My vision has always been important to me. My first career and educational training was in photography. I worked for many years as a photographer, then a writer, with a mid-size Canadian newspaper. What I saw became what readers of the paper read and looked at daily.

Even now, as a writer, my eyes are what allows me to place ideas, poems, and thoughts on a page. This is important to me.

My eyesight is now limited, in some way. I’m not sure if I can call it mild. At this point I still function well with most daily duties. I do not require a white cane (perhaps the greatest stereotype surrounding a visual disability), I can drive (save night vision, and my choice not to drive at night), and, for the most part, I get along well.

I have been receiving treatment, in the form of monthly injections, and have adjusted the prescription to eyeglasses I’ve worn since age five. Seeing things at a distance, or just the everyday stuff you associate with getting around, has not been substantially altered.

The difficulty I have been having is with my field of vision at close range – particularly when doing certain tasks, or multi-tasking at the computer. This, of course, begins to create problems with employment.

We all know most jobs now require an element of computer literacy and time in front of a monitor. Our lives are now, pretty much, reliant on a screen of one size or the other. We all text, we tap, to keep up, to communicate, to get our news and views, or do our shopping or banking.

I can do all of that, and with some consistency. I, however, have problems when running multiple programs on multiple platforms. This is a daily occurrence at work, and this goes past the eyestrain we all experience when you spend too much time in front of a screen (we probably all do).

My eyes do not react quickly, not as they once did, and this is not about age. This is more than a period of adjustment for me.

The greatest difficulty I encounter is that my disability is invisible.

Nobody sees how I see. Nobody sees that I have, or could have, potential problems.

Instead, I become the problem when I tell them I have a disability. I shouldn’t need to explain my impairment to the degree they are asking, and still they ask; or they ignore; or they doubt.

There is a stigma attached to the word disability. Many people believe disability means difficulty. I know this personally.

I continue to have difficulties with daily work required of me, even after months of adjustments and consultations, and appointments with medical professionals. Some of the measures have worked to a degree, yet some of the difficulties have not been about me, but rather the faulty equipment I have been working with. I question if the acuity of my vision will be further damaged by prolonged exposure.

This remains a contentious issue, obviously, because it has not been corrected. I, still, routinely experience eye strain, blurred vision and headaches like I have never encountered.

It hurts, yes.

What hurts even more is the lack of understanding, even ignorance, and attitude towards the disability I am facing.

We don’t see things the same. Some people don’t even have the foresight, or sensitivity, to look beyond stigma and stereotypes.

I’m choosing to look further ahead.

© 2018 j.g. lewis

The Greatest Respect

I have no space in my heart for war.
   I am fearful, and saddened, by continued conflict on foreign soils that I have grown up watching on television and reading in the news. I cannot get past the hatred expressed by bombs, and guns, and the death of innocents unable to defend themselves.
   I am distressed by the threat of war. I have no space in my mind to even try to comprehend such action.
   I have no room in my heart for war.
   I do, however, have the greatest respect for those who have served this country, or made the ultimate sacrifice, so that I, that we, may live as we do now.
   It is not hypocritical.
   It is honest.
   I grew up listening to the horrors of war. I grew up attending, annually, Remembrance Day ceremonies. Armistice Day, as observed by commonwealth nations, marks the end of the First World War. We learned of the war, and those that followed, from a very young age, in textbooks, through the media, or from our parents.
   The stories were not lost on me, but truly didn’t sink in until the end of my teenage years.
   As, then, staff photographer at a mid-sized daily Canadian newspaper, I was assigned to cover the annual November 11 ceremony at a cemetery on the outskirts of the city.
   As a photographer you learn to hover on the edges of an event. I, not wanting to disrupt the ceremony — and wanting to pay respect to those who were there for greater reasons than I — tucked myself behind a tree, attached my telephoto lens, then watched and waited for the right shot.
   The crowd was not small, rain threatened, and veterans still stood tall in their uniforms, blue blazers and berets, medals displayed proudly. Their postures straightened as a bugle played The Last Post.
   I watched as a man in a wheelchair began to shudder, his head bowing down. I then watched as the soldier next to him reached over and placed a hand his shoulder. I was watching through a 200 mm lens, the complete picture of the scene and the crowd was not important to me.
   The sound of the bugle fill the air. I pressed the shutter button a few times, capturing the intimacy of this small act, then my eyes began to cloud with tears. I lowered my camera and broke down.
   I tried to remain silent behind the tree. My eyes were no longer fixed through the camera lens, but sweeping the crowd. I watched aging veterans, wives and widows, and sons and daughters honouring family.
   The impact of the wars, on me, was felt more deliberately than ever before.
   After any event, as a photographer, you search out the subjects of your photograph to get names (and correct spellings). This particular photograph would not require the soldiers to be identified as I shot mostly from behind and they were simply the two men, in a crowd of many, who were not identifiable, as such. I could have easily offered a cutline in the next day’s paper identifying the men as “veterans”.
   I did not think it as respectful, or I wanted to know who these men were. I had been profoundly affected.
   When asked, both men proudly provided their names, ranks, and details of where they served. I was also invited to the Legion Hall where a simple lunch was planned.
   I went, and I sat and listened to men who were not regaling themselves of war stories, but sharing memories of friendship, of comradery, and of duty.
   I have no place in my heart for war.
   But I have room to remember those who defended this country and others; proud soldiers who defended the lives of others across the globe. The numbers have dwindled over the years.
   They were fathers, and husbands, grandfathers. They meant something to their families, and to me.
   I still tear up on Remembrance Day.
   Some years I will watch the beautiful ceremony broadcast from the National War Memorial Ottawa. I have visited the Cenotaph in Winnipeg, on Memorial Boulevard, and sat through the ceremony. There is nothing as dramatic as the cannons going off as a sign of respect, heightened by the silence between each shot.
   I cannot help but stop for a moment each Remembrance Day, wherever I am, and offer a silent prayer.
   I have no room in my heart for war, yet, if I am to claim peace the most important goal, I am also to acknowledge, and dare I say, respect, war, and Canada’s peacekeeping role throughout the world.
   No, it is not hypocritical; it is the reality we are faced with.
   War is a reality we are all forced to live with, sadly.
   That should not stop us from hoping, for praying, for peace.

Lest We Forget.

© 2018 j.g. lewis

Who Will Judge

And how would it feel if it happened to you?
Would it, or could it, alter your point of view?

It is not, clearly, all black and white.

Through murky shades of grey we wander,
or trespass, across the lives of others.

Shouldn’t all human beings have human rights?

History; a planet rife with examples of abuse.

Anti-Semitism, tongue-in-cheek criticism,
revealing more truth than dare. Ignorance.
Insults uttered without conscience or care.

A sad state. I cannot contemplate
moral devastation, in other nations, but I must.

It is where we live.
This globalization, this imbalance, this hatred
rooted in religion, race, gender identity, or disability.
Discrimination. Disgrace.

When does hate speech become free speech?
Who will decide, who will judge, those who
blame and shame others, unknown
and unknowing.

Imbalance, injustice. Hallow eyes do not trust us
when we are all one; aren’t we? Do you see?

Is that not what you believe?
Shouldn’t all human beings
have human rights?

Let your voice rise above red-hot rhetoric, and
assaultive language. Be honest. Be humble

Speak out for those who cannot speak up for themselves
for one day you may find yourself among them.

Who, then, will stand up for you?

© 2018 j.g. lewis