Yes, it is Vinegar Friday. But today, vinegar is taking a back seat. Like the bittersweet mixture of vinegar and honey, so is sorrow when mixed with inspiration.
On Wednesday, April 11, 2012, my friend, Sharon A. Donovan, passed away. On Monday, she will be buried. A beautiful woman who's life inspired all who knew her, Sharon fought a valiant fight after suffering a lifetime of Type 1 Diabetes. Over a decade ago, when she was in her early 40s, she lost her vision. Sharon wrote about her journey through blindness in her book ECHO OF A RAVEN. It is an inspiring story about how a young fears were realized, and how she brilliantly rose above them. If you know anyone facing diabetic retinopathy, I encourage you to purchase this book. Below is an excerpt:
As the blind man sweeps the streets with his white cane, I look away. As the blind man jingles his cup of coins on corner sidewalks, I look away. As the blind man sells his mops and brooms, I look away.
“You’ll be blind by time you’re twenty-five,” a doctor at Children’s Hospital predicted. “Your blood sugars are way too high.”
I began hearing the frightening phrase diabetic retinopathy at the age of six when I was diagnosed as a type 1 diabetic. This condition causes fragile blood vessels to grow and rupture in the back of the eye and can lead to progressive blindness. And at the age of twelve, when a doctor at a routine visit made this prediction, his cruel words changed the entire course of my life, affecting every major decision I made for years to come.
His words haunted me. They consumed me. They devoured me. Wherever I went or whatever I did, these words echoed in my head. The only time I found refuge was through my artwork. Painting became my sanctuary, a place where I could escape to another place and time. Peace and tranquility. No more pain. But one day when painting a picturesque Tuscan landscape, the initial bout of blindness struck with no warning.
Several buses pulled up, hissing and spewing as slush and mud splashed in all directions. People jumped back to avoid the mud-stained snow. It was a 71 and it was going downtown.
As I stood shivering, waiting for people to file out, a blind woman approached the bus stop, sweeping the snow covered pavement with her white cane. Her flat, monotone voice cut through my thoughts.
“Does this bus go downtown?”
“Yes,” I answered her. I wanted to turn my head as I’d done so many times in the past, but my heart went out to her. It was so slippery out and she was so vulnerable. What if she got on the wrong bus—or got stranded somewhere? That could be me some day. Fear welled up in my throat as I watched her maneuver her way on to the bus. She cleared each step with her cane and stepped aboard.
A man in the front of the bus stood up. “Here, miss. Take my seat.” He tapped her arm. “Behind you.”
She wordlessly took his seat without uttering so much as a thank you. I sat in the seat directly across from her, not wanting to watch her--but unable to take my eyes off her. She wore dark glasses and a blank expression, so isolated in a world of utter chaos. She pulled a book out of her bag and began feeling it. Braille, I sucked in my breath. A foreboding premonition hurled through me and I thought I might be sick. I couldn’t take this. Visions of my future flashed in front of me, filling me with an uneasiness that had me completely undone.
How could she have the patience to read Braille, feeling all those bumps. After reading small print on legal documents all day, I would never have the tolerance to learn Braille. No way. How could a sighted person adapt to an unsighted world? Would that be me some day? Or was I just hitting the panic button. Then to my horror, the words screeched in my head. “You’ll be blind by time you’re twenty-five.”
Precisely one week later, I was down in my garage, putting the finishing touches on my painting. The rich fertile vineyards of the Tuscan landscape shrouded an inland harbor of mirror still waters. Age-old olive trees framed the hillside. Sitting back to admire my work, I smiled in eager anticipation. Just a few more strokes of the brush for fine detailing, and my masterpiece would be complete.
But suddenly, a huge splattering of black paint covered my beautiful painting. Confused, I wondered how paint had managed to get all over my masterpiece. I blinked several times, but it was still there.
Slowly but surely, my brain received the message. It wasn’t black paint covering my canvas at all; it was blood covering my retina. My worst nightmare had just come true. I’d had a massive retinal hemorrhage.
Dumbfounded, my paintbrush slipped from my fingers and rolled across the floor. I felt like I was drowning, losing consciousness. I sunk into a chair, clasping my hand over my mouth. Heart-wrenching pain stabbed at my gut. Nausea threatened. Then the tears spilled. “Nooo! Not yet. It’s too soon.”
It was too soon. As was her death.
Nooo! I want to shout. Not yet. It's too soon.
It's too soon.