from Mr. DiDonna

This past summer I had the privilege of attending a permanent exhibit at the Israeli Children’s Museum in Holon, Israel. I was delivered to the venue by an Israeli host without forewarning of what was about to ensue. I could tell something was up by the look of mischief on her face, and this made me a bit suspicious. I mean, it was a “museum,” not a house of horrors. Upon checking in, I was led over to a small waiting area and handed a walking stick usually reserved for people who are blind. I was surrounded by a gathering of about a dozen fellow participants (with identical walking sticks) whom I had never met, and with whom I believed I had nothing in common. As I continued to focus on the sign overhead which read “Dialogue in the Dark,” I searched for clues as to what I was about to experience. My hosts remained silent. Soon, a concierge introduced herself and explained that we would be escorted through the “installation” for the next hour and a half by a person who was blind. We were told his name would be, Seadya.

We were led out of the foyer and into another room, where a door closed behind us. In that instant, I was cast into pitch darkness.  Now, there is the kind of darkness where one’s eyes eventually adjust over time, and where figures and shadows, along with other sources of light (door cracks, for example) come into focus. This room was sealed of any such leakage. There weren’t any contours, not one silhouette, or outline.  The only color that existed was black, without even an inkling of gray.

In that room our tour guide, Seadya, would introduce himself and informed us that he, the blind person the concierge had eluded to, would be leading us through several rooms over the course of the afternoon, each its own separate environment, each its own separate experience. He told us we would find objects in our path that we would have to navigate with the help of our walking sticks and by following the sound of his voice. We were ushered along through environments like a simulated street corner with an actual “parked” car in the room, then into a movie theater, then a grocery store, and later, a discotheque. This was all in the same pitch darkness. Whenever Seadya sensed we were feeling lost and insecure, he would make his way to us individually and helped us advance with the knowing reassurance of his hand and his voice.

Despite his all too familiar sensitivity to our journey, I began to feel a deep sense of loneliness, and not the kind of loneliness one feels because they haven’t any friends on a Friday night. This loneliness was existential. We had lost our eyes. We were subject to a condition that created a rupture in everything we had considered normal up to that moment. As participants we began to talk to one another, not out of a need to be polite, but because we needed one another to find our way forward through the tour. It became all too evident how truly interdependent we each were and have probably always been. It became all too evident what life had been like for Seadya his entire life.

For many of us who have the luxury of going through our daily lives with relatively healthy eyesight, the vicarious possibility of closing one’s eyes to simulate the experience of blindness, seems plausible. One can, for example, place themselves in a darkened room at home, with closed eyes to ensure a full effect, and think, “oh, this is what it feels like.” However, the knowledge that the experiment could be aborted at any time, prevents any real anxiety from entering one’s experience. Further, in any dark room of a standard house, some source of light would always be present.  However, in the passageways of this “installation,” there wasn’t any relief to be found. We were all cast in darkness together. And, in this darkness, we were also alone in our thoughts. Questions and doubts around trust emerged. Along with that, the consideration that I could one day find myself in this condition, began to hound me. The vulnerability was exceptional. I was dizzy, often off balance, and deeply confused. As I reached out my hand feeling for the security of the strangers accompanying me, I also found myself feeling deep gratitude for the presence of those very strangers. What would I do on a Boston street corner in this condition?

At the end of the exhibit, we all sat at a table in a cafeteria with Seadya and were given the opportunity, while still in the dark,  to ask him questions as he informed us of his own experiences and some general statistics around blindness. For example, he stated that approximately only 10 % of people who are blind see absolute darkness. He stated that the other 90% see some variation of shadow. He urged us to not think of people with disability as weak, but as possessing a special brand of strength. While listening to him, I began to develop a sober and respectful insight into the categories of human courage and faith. My inner world directed by my own internal radar, became the guidepost.

We live in a world that isn’t designed for people possessing only four of the five known senses. The world makes accommodations for those people, but rarely does the creator of the design factor such individuals into its overall vision. In a sense, they come after; they are an afterthought. On this afternoon, I was exposed to what it feels like to be rendered incidental in a world of people defined by their own derived sense of purpose, where something as mundane as pouring a glass of water, the buttering of one’s bread, or the counting of money, becomes a challenge that must be navigated…in the dark.